Fortuitously, a Royal Navy task force is heading to the region as part of its annual Operation Cougar deployment.
Navy on standby to rescue Britons in Egypt
THE Royal Navy was on standby last night to evacuate British tourists from Egypt as the country teeters on the brink of civil war.
With up to 40,000 Britons on holiday in Red Sea resorts, the aircraft carrier Illustrious and a flotilla of warships were placed on high alert to rescue them and other UK nationals should the violence escalate.
The move follows a week of bloodshed in which more than 1,000 people have been killed in clashes between supporters of the deposed Muslim Brotherhood regime and the forces of the interim military government.
Senior officers at the Permanent Joint Headquarters of the Armed Forces in Northwood, Middlesex, whose role is to monitor world events, are poised to react if politicians call for military intervention.
Illustrious, the assault ship Bulwark and a fleet of frigates and support ships are heading towards Gibraltar for a series of war games which is also due to take them through the Red Sea.
A top Naval source told the Sunday Express: “The planning team will be looking at all options and making sure we are ready to evacuate British nationals if it comes to that or in a worst-case scenario intervene to rescue UK citizens taken hostage.
“We have a desk officer who will know where we can fly into, who we can liaise with, where the majority of UK passports live and have at least a dozen local people who we can call on to help us.
“As well as tourists, we have British nationals inside Cairo and other areas and this is now very much a waiting game. It is all about the political decision- making process, based on the intelligence information collated at GCHQ. Our role is to be ready.”
The Government is under growing pressure to warn British tourists to stay away from Egypt amid fears they will become targets in the violence.
The Foreign Office has advised against travel to Sinai, Cairo and Alexandria but given the green light to popular Red Sea destinations such as Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada.
Tens of thousands of Britons are due to fly there this week.
The US, France, Russia, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and Belgium have all advised their citizens to avoid Egypt. Thailand is preparing to evacuate 2,000 of its nationals.
Last night Britons in Marsa Alam, near Sharm el-Sheikh, were under virtual curfew. Lawrence Aston, 52, from Bromley, Kent, on holiday with his wife and two sons, said: “We would have gone elsewhere if we’d have known what was going to happen.
“The Foreign Office still say it’s OK to come here but I don’t know how much longer that can last.
“The tour operators are toeing a dangerous line as there’s no way of telling if Westerners could become a target or if this could become a civil war.”
Sally Asling told how her hotel in Hurghada had bolstered security after a protest nearby in which one man was reportedly shot dead.
She said: “It is unsettling how quickly things kick off.”
British tourists say they have little choice but to carry on with their trips as they face up to £600 in cancellation fees.
Yesterday travellers arriving at London Heathrow from Cairo described the scramble to get home.
Jamie Griffiths, 41, a music teacher from Swansea, said: “I was so lucky to get out of there. It was chaos at the airport because there were no police there. My taxi driver had to take loads of detours.”
Egyptian-born Fadia Matta, 62, who lives in the UK, said: “The people are crazy. They have burnt a lot of churches. They have stolen a whole museum. It is very sad.”
British Airways is still flying to Cairo but has adjusted its schedules around curfew times imposed by Egyptian authorities.
It is allowing passengers to change destinations.
A spokeswoman said: “We are keeping the situation in Egypt under constant review.”
Last night MPs called for clearer information for travellers heading to Egypt. Conservative Bill Cash said: “People are the best judges of their own safety but I think they need to be warned specifically of the unpredictability of the situation.”
Labour’s Ann Clwyd said: “I would have thought the travel advice would have been beefed up as anything could happen at any time at any place given the extreme situation in the country.”