The Canadian government has "facilitated" the safe evacuation of about 200 Canadians from Libya on a number of flights and vessels, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a televised statement Friday evening.

Saying the situation at the airport in Tripoli was "becoming ever more difficult," the prime minister said evacuation efforts will continue Saturday.

"A Canadian armed forces C-17 is standing by in Malta, ready to be deployed to Libya at a moment's notice," he said.

So far, however, Canada hasn't directly airlifted any of its citizens out of Libya. Many have found their own way out of the strife-torn country by hitching rides on allied countries' flights and ships.

A Foreign Affairs spokesperson told CBC News Friday that although the government had yet to evacuate a single Canadian from Libya aboard a Canadian plane, officials have facilitated the evacuation of Canadians from the country on aircraft and vessels from other nations.

The Canadian effort has been plagued with confusion and delays.

A charter expected to land in Tripoli at 1:45 p.m. ET Friday touched down shortly before 5 p.m., Foreign Affairs confirmed.

There reportedly were huge difficulties at the airport in Tripoli, though the problems weren't immediately specified. The plane was supposed to evacuate Canadian and other foreign nationals.

A Foreign Affairs spokesperson said the department didn't know if any Canadians would be there.

Furthermore, Canadians who are not yet at the Tripoli airport should not attempt to get there, a department statement said.

"The road to Tripoli International Airport is impassable, and the situation at the airport is extremely chaotic; therefore Canadians should not attempt to reach the airport at this time."  

A Foreign Affairs statement earlier had said, "Canadian citizens who wish to be evacuated must assemble at the Tripoli International Airport on February 25 by 10 a.m. and must present themselves to Canadian consular officials. The meeting point at the airport will be marked with a Canadian flag." It added that "departure information may change without notice."

In Val D'Or, Que., earlier, Harper spoke to reporters about the evacuation process.

"When a plane of ours arrives, obviously we first board Canadians. If we still have room, we board others, and that's what all countries do," he said.

"So we are taking out each others, if we have the possibility of doing so. Many of the Canadians had left on earlier flights."

A lack of co-ordination on the ground at the airport in Tripoli may have resulted in a charter plane leaving Libya empty — with no stranded Canadians on board, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Friday.

"That has to do with the co-ordination on the ground and ensuring that people are aware that exit is available to them. So, we're trying to co-ordinate this through the Department of Foreign Affairs [and] through other countries as well," MacKay told reporters in Ottawa.

MacKay also said "we don't have planes going in and coming out empty. ... not Canadian military planes."

The first plane flew out of Libya empty, because people wanting to leave the country may not have known it was there to pick them up, he added.

Canadians in Libya

Canadian citizens in Libya requiring emergency consular assistance or wanting to leave Libya should contact the Canadian Embassy in Tripoli at 218 (21) 335-1633 (dial 011 from Canada), or call Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada's Emergency Operations Centre at 613-996-8885. They may also send an email to sos@international.gc.ca.

The charter, intended to evacuate Canadians from the chaotic Libyan capital, arrived in Tripoli overnight from Amman, but was empty when it left early Friday, a Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said.

A military source told CBC News that it was unlikely a Canadian Forces C-17 plane will be sent to Tripoli after all, since there seem to be few Canadians waiting to be evacuated. The plane, which can carry 156 passengers, remains on standby in Rome, the source said.

Earlier Friday, Adrienne Arsenault of CBC News spoke to a representative of the charter airline in Rome.

"If the passengers are waiting, they could load the plane within an hour or so," she said. "Who is there to pick up, how many, where the flight will go is all uncertain at this point."

Meanwhile, Quebec-based SNC Lavalin has succeeded in getting its employees and their families out of Libya.

Bloc Québécois MP Meili Faille, whose cousin works for the company, told CBC News that 1,000 employees took buses from Benghazi to Cairo Thursday. Another 700 were waiting for buses to take them to Cairo, and were expecting to leave shortly.

Only seven employees remain, mostly senior employees, who want to make sure everyone gets out safely before they go, Faille said.

Libya has been racked by violence since Feb. 18 as fighting has increased between anti-government protesters and supports of leader Moammar Gadhafi.

So far, 207 Canadians have been evacuated on flights arranged by other countries or commercial flights, and 26 arrived in Malta on Friday on a U.S. boat after being delayed since Wednesday by heavy seas.

Canadian officials have told CBC News there are only "a handful" of Canadians trying to leave Libya now.

"We are co-ordinating with our allies to get Canadian citizens out. We are doing everything possible to ensure that we can get Canadian and chartered aircraft in to make that happen."

With the situation deteriorating rapidly, Cannon urged all Canadians to leave Libya.

Foreign Affairs has said 351 Canadians are registered with the embassy in Tripoli and at least 213 have said they want to leave the country.

Countries such as India, France, Turkey, Serbia and Egypt are also scrambling to get their citizens out of the country. Egyptians form the largest group of foreigners in Libya.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of the story attributed a quote about the number of Canadians evacuated to a Foreign Affairs official. In fact, the official confirmed the information but did not use the exact phrasing presented.
    Feb 25, 2011 3:05 PM ET
With files from The Canadian Press