There was increasing anger today at the chaos and confusion that has engulfed the heavily publicised ‘Royal Navy rescue’ of British holidaymakers stranded abroad….
There was increasing anger tonight at the chaos and confusion that has engulfed the heavily publicised ‘Royal Navy rescue’ of British holidaymakers stranded abroad.
An announcement by Gordon Brown on Monday suggested that British warships were on their way to foreign ports in readiness for a Dunkirk style ‘sea lift’ of thousands of stranded air passengers.
However plans to send HMS Ark Royal and HMS Ocean to evacuate stranded travellers from Calais were abandoned after French officials pointed out that the terminal was not equipped for naval vessels.
One senior Calais port official called the plan to send warships to Calais “nuts,” and added “It’s a push but the ferries are managing fine.”
There was further embarrassment for Gordon Brown after it emerged that Sir Peter Warmcott, Britain’s Ambassador to France, had downgraded the plans for a naval rescue to “an option” and advised travellers to head to Calais and take a ferry instead.
Both HMS Ark Royal and HMS Ocean are apparently still in British waters and said to be “making use of their time” by carrying out routine exercises and preparations for future deployments.
The Foreign office and the BBC also came in for heavy criticism following claims that people had been advised to travel to Spanish port Santander in the belief that HMS Albion would transport them back to the UK. However the ship had places for only 50 extra people after the planned passengers had boarded – many people had turned up were left abandoned.
One Scottish couple told how after heeding advice from the foreign office and the BBC they had travelled for 24 hours by air and overnight coach at a cost of hundreds of pounds each, only to be informed when they arrived that the boat was full and would be picking up only pre-selected people.
SKY news also reported that furious passengers have questioned Gordon Brown’s claim that the UK government had organised 100 coaches in Madrid in order to take them home.
Mr Brown had said on radio: “We’re putting on coaches from Madrid,” he added. “There’s 100 already there in Madrid to do it.”
However as thousands of travellers arrived in the city there was no sign of the coaches. One passenger said: “I am very disappointed with the embassy,
“They said there were coaches for us to travel to the UK, but the desk here says there are no coaches. Nothing is happening.”
Another passenger Ximena Eckelman said she had no idea what to do next. “I don’t know where this information about the coaches is coming from.
“We’ve made lots of inquiries but the British embassy says it will only take the names of minors and people with medical conditions.”
Natasha Hansen explained that she had been stuck in Madrid since flying in from Cuba on Friday.
“It might be a hub but there are certainly no spokes to get us out,”
“We’ve tried everything – buses, trains. Gordon Brown seems to have announced 100 buses from Madrid before anyone here knows about it.”
There are estimated to be around 150,000 stranded UK citizens all over the world and the airline industry is now accusing the government of over-reaction over the grounding of flights.