Navy could rescue travellers

Steve Dinneen
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DRASTIC plans were hastily drawn up yesterday to help return at least 150,000 Britons stranded by the Icelandic volcano to the UK.

Government ministers say the Navy could be recruited to ferry thousands of Britons who have been grounded by the fine cloud of ash belched over vast swathes of Europe.

Some estimates place the number stranded abroad at over 1m.

The government is considering establishing a transport hub in Spain, where those stranded outside the no-fly zone could assemble. From there a network of Navy and merchant ships would be commissioned to return them to British soil.

Business secretary Lord Mandelson, who headed up the committee charged with returning the travellers, said Gordon Brown will meet with the Spanish to discuss whether the plan is workable. He pointed to extra capacity being added to train lines running between France and England. Ferries have also seen a huge spike in customers, with 60,000 people passing through Dover yesterday.

The Tories have formulated their own plan to rectify the situation. They are calling for ferry and rail operators to maintain stable pricing for journeys back to the UK, as well as collecting passengers in chartered ships.

The Cobra taskforce will meet this morning to further discuss plans.

Events including the London Marathon and the Chinese Grand Prix are already contemplating ways to ensure top sportsmen are not excluded. International figures including Barack Obama and David Miliband were forced to abandon plans to travel to the funeral of Lech Kaczynski, the Polish President, yesterday.