Albania – Operation “COSMAS” – Foreigners Evacuation

(15 March 1997)

Following the collapse of the illegal banking system in Albania, Albanians raised against the Government and the State, arms depots were broken into and people stole arms. Armed gangs began to plunder and people were too scared to go out.

From early March 1997, the situation deteriorated and became dangerous for all foreigners living in Albania; at the same time, many foreign embassies started closing down, while others ceased operations. The U.S. Marines launched an evacuation operation that lasted three days. Many American and European citizens were evacuated from Tyrana . On the 14th of March, 52 Greek citizens, among them and the personnel of the Greek Embassy, 5 Belgians and a number of Jordanians and Palestinians were evacuated by the Hellenic Navy. In early March, panic spread all over the country and there were rumors that extremists would set the capital, Tirana, on fire. This resulted to an immense crowd gathering outside the Greek Embassy in Tirana, requesting to be evacuated. Requests for evacuation were also submitted to the Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, mainly by Countries that were unable for reasons of distance to provide support to their citizens in Albania. The Hellenic MoFA asked the Hellenic MoD for assistance, the Ministry of Defense authorized the Hellenic National Defense General Staff to plan and conduct an evacuation operation.

The night of the 14th of March 1997, the Hellenic Defense Attaché, his counterpart from China, the Ambassador and A’ Secretary of the Embassy of Egypt, the Charge’ d’affaires of the Embassy of Iraq and the Ambassador of Palestine met in Tirana and agreed on the time and exact number of foreign citizens that were to be evacuated from the capital and moved to the port of Duress. The whole operation included the evacuation of 171 Chinese citizens, 40 Egyptians, 10 Iranian and 20 Jordanians and Palestinians.

The Hellenic Navy allocated to the mission the Frigate “AIGAION”, the guided missile ship “KAVALOUDIS”, the mine sweeper “KLEO”, the torpedo-boat “LELAPS”, and a SEAL Team.

Following coordinated efforts, the Greek vessels and the foreign citizens to be evacuated, arrived at the port of Durres. The “LELAPS” torpedo-boat conducted deceptive man oeuvres near the right dock of the port, while the mine sweeper “KAVALOUDIS”, docked the on left platform of the port, already ensured by the underwater demolition team. The crowd 4.000 Albanians that had gathered at the point were kept back by the Navy SEAL Teams and the foreign citizens managed to embark safely followed by the Navy SEAL Team and both vessels exited the port. The evacuated citizens were transferred to frigate “AIGAION”, and the operation concluded, with the ships sailing to Corfu during the night.

The Evacuation of the foreign citizens from Albania was an extremely dangerous operation, in an unstable environment with chaotic conditions, where human life had no value. The Hellenic Navy operated in full coordination and cooperation, to achieve success. Significant and impressive were also the men of the Hellenic Underwater Demolition Command, in coordination and support with the Greek Defense Attaché in Tirana.