MANILA - A Philippine-chartered ship evacuated 449 Filipinos and a small number of other foreigners from Libya on Thursday, the foreign department said, due to the deteriorating security situation in the North African country.
The operation from the eastern port of Benghazi marked the largest single evacuation of Filipinos from the country in its latest bout of violence, though the foreign department said 10,000 other Filipino workers have yet to leave.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said in Manila that the ship was now heading for the port of Misrata to pick up about 610 other Filipinos later Thursday before sailing for Malta.
"The idea is, we take them out of the danger zone," he told reporters.
Fifteen foreigners, including an American, a Ukrainian, five Spaniards and five from Malta also boarded the ship in Benghazi, he added.
He did not give the nationalities of the three others.
Since mid-July, Libya has been rocked by deadly inter-militia fighting for control of key facilities including Tripoli's international airport.
Benghazi in the east, Libya's second city, has also seen battles between Islamists and the forces of a renegade general.
Del Rosario warned the Filipino holdouts against complacency, saying fighting could flare up again.
"I think the Filipinos are always confident that we will come back for them, but... there will be no ship after this."
Apart from those who left by ship, about 150 Filipinos are leaving Tripoli every two days and heading across the border to Tunisia by land, del Rosario said.
The foreign department said that once the ship's mission is complete, nearly 3,000 Filipinos will have left Libya since the government in July called for their "mandatory evacuation" in the face of the growing violence.
Foreign department spokesman Charles Jose said about 10,000 Filipinos would still be in Libya after the ship leaves.
Many of them are medical workers, who make up the backbone of the country's hospital staff and are being offered financial incentives to stay, Jose told reporters last week.
A Filipino construction worker was abducted and then beheaded by unknown suspects there last month while a Filipina nurse was abducted and gang-raped before being released also last month.
About 10 million Filipinos work around the world, and del Rosario has said many of those based in Libya were reluctant to leave higher-paying jobs than what they would get at home.
The Philippines also evacuated thousands of its nationals from Libya in 2011 in the violence that led to the toppling of Moamer Kadhafi.