A small cruise ship, the Orient Queen, has been chartered by the U.S. government
to evacuate Americans from war-torn Lebanon
and ferry them about 130 miles to the nearby island of Cyprus
, the Pentagon announced
The Lebanese owned cruise ship, which can carry up to 750 passengers, is expected to arrive in Beirut on Tuesday and will be escorted in its evacuation mission by a U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer, the USS Gonzalez.
The cruise ship is expected to make its initial evacuation crossing from Beirut to Cyprus later
Tuesday. Sources said the ship probably would take the evacuees to the southern coastal port of Larnaca
, which is only a few miles from Larnaca International Airport
, the island's main international gateway.
The 38-year-old Orient Queen may be remembered by many cruisers as Starward, which entered Caribbean cruise service with the old Norwegian Caribbean Line
(now NCL) in 1968. It was sold to Festival Cruises in 1994 and sailed as the Bolero.
Following the collapse of Festival, she was sold in 2004 to a Lebanese company and has been operated as the Orient Queen by Abou Merhi Cruises, sailing this past winter in the Persian Gulf while based in Dubai.
A U.S. Embassy statement instructed any of the estimated 25,000 American citizens in Lebanon to be ready to leave, but many of these have dual American-Lebanese citizenship and are not expected to evacuate.
The State Department estimated that the number of Americans wishing to evacuate was probably about 5,000.