Prime Minister Gordon Brown sent in the Royal Navy on Monday to rescue British passengers stranded by the volcanic ash cloud, as the crisis added an unexpected twist to campaigning for May 6 elections.
Three Royal Navy ships are on their way to help repatriate up to 200,000 Britons stranded by five days of flight restrictions following the Icelandic volcano eruption.
Experts said the three ships together would probably be able to accommodate no more than 3,000 passengers.
The aircraft carrier Ark Royal and the assault ships Ocean and Albion have been deployed to help increase cross-Channel options as the no-flight ban across Britain was extended until 1am on Tuesday.
Opposition Conservative leader David Cameron also sought to claim credit for the idea, which comes after the election race was thrown wide open by a surge in support for the third party, the Liberal Democrats.
Brown, whose poll ratings have been helped by previous crises, recalled ministers from the campaign trail Sunday for urgent talks on how to repatriate Britons stuck abroad after the ash grounded flights across Europe.
After fresh talks on Monday, the prime minister announced that the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and amphibious assault ship HMS Ocean were being deployed to the English Channel to help those stranded return home.
A third ship, HMS Albion, was on its way to Spain to pick up British troops who had been diverted on their way home from the war in Afghanistan, Brown said, adding that it may be able to pick up some civilians.