British missionary tells of terrifying wait for rescue

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As A hunt was launched last night for 15 Britons unaccounted for in Albania, a British missionary told of the terrifying rescue of 65 others by the Italian navy, writes Ros Wynne-Jones.

Paul Towlson, 37, of Sutton Coldfield, said the evacuees feared for their lives after becoming caught in cross-fire between Italian military and Albanians desperate to board the rescue vessel.

The emergency evacuation began with a dangerous journey from the capital, Tirana, to the port of Durres, with the unarmed British convoy waving the Union flag for protection.

"When we arrived there were about 300 Albanians jammed onto the quayside with us while we were waiting for the Italian boat, and they all wanted to get on," said Mr Towlson, who has spent the past two years working as a missionary in Tirana.

"Then there was gunfire all around as the Italians fired over their heads and everyone panicked. We had been waiting hours for our rescuers, but when they arrived they only took Italian nationals and we were left to spend the night surrounded by groups of armed rebels and bonfires blazing. It was terrifying.

"The Italians returned at dawn and had to allow about 150 Albanians on board the warship as well as our party to avoid bloodshed."