Risky mission to Misrata

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionBringing aid by boat to Misrata

I've just watched a Greek ferry, freshly painted with big red crosses, leave the harbour here in Benghazi under contract to the International Committee of the Red Cross and head west along the Libyan coast in a new attempt to break the siege of Misrata.

"It's not without its risks," says the man in charge, Simon Brooks - with some understatement. Colonel Gaddafi's forces have repeatedly mined the harbour entrance and the port itself, and the area is often heavily shelled.

The ICRC has notified Colonel Gaddafi's government in Tripoli about this, their seventh mission to help thousands of civilians trapped in the city.

"The law of armed conflict is very clear about civilians having access to humanitarian assistance during armed conflict. We're confident that will be respected. The needs in Misrata are considerable, and growing," says Mr Brooks. We asked if we could accompany the ship, but the ICRC was concerned that might complicate any negotiations on access to the city.

The ship is carrying trucks, blankets, medical and logistical supplies, and even 15 tonnes of electrical cable to try to help repair power supplies damaged during more than two months of fighting. But the key concern now seems to be water, following the bombing on Friday of Misrata's main fuel depot.

The city's main water pipeline from the south appears to have been cut - it's presumed deliberately - by Colonel Gaddafi's forces. The only desalination plant in the area needs diesel fuel to convert seawater to drinking water. "If there is a lack of diesel this is very bad news for water supply to civilians in the city," says Mr Brooks. It seems unlikely that fuel tankers would be willing to run the gauntlet into Misrata's port.

The ICRC is also sending a separate convoy, by land, from Tripoli, in an attempt to cross the front lines and bring supplies to Misrata. "One thing about this conflict is that no-one has a decent guess as to how long it's going to last," says Mr Brooks.

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites