A DAD who narrowly escaped the fierce fighting in Libya today slammed the British Government.
Tony Blakeway was among 50 British oil workers left stranded on an isolated camp in the middle of the Sahara Desert.
The 61-year-old, from Silksworth, feared for his life after his desperate emails for help from the Foreign Office failed to get a response.
Instead of being rescued on an RAF Hercules transporter, Tony was left to witness fierce battles for control of the camp.
He had to make a perilous journey across Libya as civil war raged, then get a ferry to Malta and flight to Britain, only returning to Wearside and his anxious family on Tuesday evening.
Tony – who is married to Carole, a counselling student at Sunderland University, and has two sons, Alan and Andrew – has been in the oil industry for 30 years.
He has worked in Libya for the past year for local firm Harouge, ensuring painting work is carried out properly on pipelines.
Tony said they had no idea of problems brewing in the country, until hearing of deaths on the streets of the city of Benghazi, then military helicopters landing at their camp to refuel.
But on what protesters called a “Day of Anger” on Thursday - during which seven people died, Amal camp was raided by bandits and looters. Then the situation got worse.
“The army who were stationed nearby just ran away,” said Tony.
“So the bandits armed themselves with AK47s by raiding the army camp.
“They came back and got onto the camp.
“We witnessed the fighting at the gate.
“Fortunately, the young locals in the village nearby realised what was happening.
“They fought the raiders off with lengths of pipe and sticks.
“The village relies on the camp for its livelihood, so they decided to come and guard it.
“More for the facilities the occupants, but it hadn’t have been for them we would be dead.”
Tony said two American oil firms sent rescue planes to the camp, but they would only take their own staff.
The band of Brits spent the next day trying to decide how to get out, with no official help from home.
“We couldn’t believe the response of the British Government.
“They ignored all the emails I sent to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Government.
“At the end of the day they just abandoned us to our own devices.”
He managed to get on a bus sent in by Harouge, to drive through checkpoints occupied by protesters, to the city of Ras Lanuf in an area held by mercenaries working for under-threat Libyan leader Colonel Gadaffi.
“That’s when it got really serious,” said Tony, a regular at the Grange pub, in Fulwell.
“They were heavily armed, and ordered us off the bus to form one long line.
“We were then surrounded by young, uniformed guys with their faces wrapped up, but we knew they were Sudanese or Somalian mercenaries.
“They were extremely nervous and very trigger happy.”
Tony said cars were driving by with bullet holes in them, and the smell of cordite in the air meant there had just been a gunfight.
The Wearsider said his group was saved from an unknown fate when one of the guards spotted his friend Dave’s British passport.
“For some reason they had assumed were Turkish,” he added.
The bus was allowed into camp, and Tony was later able to get onto a ferry to Malta, chartered by a German firm, before hopping on a holiday flight to the UK.
“It’s wonderful to be back,” he said. “Absolutely wonderful.”
After extensive criticism of the Foreign Office’s slow initial response to the plight of Brits stranded in Libya, Prime Minister David Cameron apologised while on a pre-planned tour of the Middle East.
“What I want to say to those people is I am extremely sorry,” he told reporters. “They’ve had a difficult time.
“There is nothing more important than getting British nationals, our own citizens, out of Libya and safely back home.”