Reporting from London — The British government announced Monday that it would dispatch navy warships to bring home Britons prevented from flying home from the European mainland by the cloud of volcanic ash.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the navy would send two ships to pick up civilians from ports along the English Channel and a third to Spain bring back British troops trying to return from duty in Afghanistan.
It was unclear, however, how quickly the evacuation could be mounted, given the logistics of putting the ships into action and working out arrangements with border authorities in Britain, France and Spain.
"I'm very proud of what British people have done dealing with the most difficult of circumstances, often stranded in very difficult areas, and we are determined to do everything that we can to help," Brown told reporters Monday morning at 10 Downing St., the prime minister's official residence.
Brown also said he was in contact with the government of Spain about turning airports in that southern country, which have mostly been unaffected by the layer of ash, into a hub for Britons trying to get home. From Spain, they could return to Britain by ship or by rail via France, through the Channel tunnel.
Airspace across much of northern Europe remained closed Monday, but a few airports have begun operating flights headed away from the cloud of grit or where there are gaps in the cloud.
Faced with severe economic losses, European airlines are pressing aviation authorities to ease restrictions on airspace. Test flights conducted by some airlines over the weekend landed without incident, the airlines said.