42 Mace staff among UK nationals fleeing from Libyan crisis

25 February 2011

Over a hundred UK construction professionals were among the estimated 3500 Britons attempting to flee from the chaos and violence that erupted in Libya this week, writes Stephen Cousins.

But despite reports of a slow and chaotic rescue effort from UK Foreign Office, the construction companies contacted by CM said that their staff had been able to leave safely – albeit after experiencing highly stressful situations.

Twenty-four employees of QS firm PH Warr barricaded themselves into a Tripoli hotel as protestors and pro-regime forces clashed outside. Their wait lasted four days before the 12 British staff made a dash for the airport on Wednesday on the advice of the British Embassy.

“Our UK staff were stuck in the heart of Tripoli where all the shootings occurred. They flew out at 2am this morning, it's a massive, massive relief,” managing director Phillip Warr told CM on Thursday. “The British Embassy in Tripoli requisitioned a chartered plane, originally intended for Shell's staff but no longer required, which flew them to Amsterdam.”

The company is now uncertain over its work on the £30m Mediterranean Sea Hotel, for which it was advising the United Libyan Tourist Investment Company on cost and project management.

At Capita Symonds, 16 UK staff made a frantic escape last weekend, narrowly avoiding a bombing campaign which destroyed the runway adjacent to the Benina International Airport it had been redeveloping in Benghazi, eastern Libya. The airport was due for completion in around 18 months.

Main contractor Mace confirmed that it had successfully evacuated all of its 42 British employees based in Libya over several days. Their work for the Libyan Investment and Development Company on the Bab Tarablus shopping centre and the Al Waha residential project, both in Tripoli, has been put on hold. “We will continue to monitor the situation,” a spokeswoman told CM.

Mott MacDonald has also withdrawn its 10 expats from Libya and remains in close contact with its five local Libyan staff.

Meanwhile, the South East Centre for Built Environment, which has a representative office in Tripoli that assists companies that want to establish offices in Libya, confirmed that the 12 construction firms it had helped set up in the country were in the process of getting their people back to the UK.

“It has been very difficult to make contact with all the companies,” said SECBE director and PPCIOB Bob Heathfield. “Who knows how things will turn out, things are changing by the hour. But people are all heeding the government advice to return.”

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