Three Royal Navy ships will be drafted to help return Britons stranded abroad as UK airspace remains restricted following the volcanic eruption in Iceland last week.

The move was announced after the UK’s emergency committee Cobra met to discuss options in addressing travel chaos caused by a volcanic ash cloud which has halted all air traffic in UK skies.

The ships HMS Ark Royal, HMS Ocean and HMS Albion are heading for Spain and unspecified Channel ports, the BBC reports.

Planes were first grounded in the UK at midday on Thursday amid fears particles in the ash cloud from Eyjafjallajokull could cause engines to shut down.

Travel agents’ association Abta said its “rough estimate” was that 150,000 Britons are currently stranded abroad, and rail and ferry services have been stretched to the limit by passengers seeking other means to return.