Workers trying to take aid by sea from Libya to Gaza are being held by the ship's captain against their will along with Libyan police officers, and heading for Greece, their charity and the Libyan coast guard said.
In an apparent row over money, the captain of the Greek-managed ship Strofades IV set off from the Libyan port of Derna while the vessel was still tied up, snapping mooring ropes and bumping into the harbor wall.
The Road to Hope charity organizing the cargo said the Maltese-registered boat was now sailing toward Greece with 10 aid workers -- seven Britons, two Irish and an Algerian -- on board as well as several Libyan police officers and a senior port official.
A Libyan coastguard official said there had been an argument over money between the aid workers and the captain.
"The scene was crazy," said Saeb Shaath, an aid worker who was at the port helping the charity to dispatch the aid consignment and witnessed the incident.
"He (the captain) broke anchor without permission to leave," Shaath told Reuters by telephone from Libya. "He broke the ropes tying the ship ... and nearly capsized the ship when it hit the wall. There were a lot of people on that ship."
Libyan authorities pursued the ship with Zodiac speedboats and aircraft, but the captain refused to stop. "He won't listen," said Shaath.
There was no immediate comment from the ship's captain or its owner.
The official with the Libyan coastguard told Reuters the Libyan police officers had gone on board at the port to help settle the dispute when the ship set off. The vessel was now outside Libya's territorial waters and heading toward Greece, said the official, who did not want to be identified.
The Road to Hope charity said in a statement: "We think the ship is several miles out to sea in the Mediterranean now. They've been making slow but steady headway. I have no idea what that Greek ship owner is up to."
The charity says it is an international collective of activists contributing to efforts to end Israel's blockade of Gaza, which is controlled by the Islamist group Hamas.
In May, nine pro-Palestinian Turks were killed in clashes with Israeli forces who had boarded a converted cruise liner that was trying to lead a flotilla to Gaza.
"The Greek captain ... was reported to be saying he wanted to proceed to Greek islands and drop off the conveyers (aid workers) and Libyans, so that the Greek people could deal with them as illegal immigrants," the Road to Hope statement said.
Britain's foreign ministry said it was aware of the incident.
"Our Embassy in Athens has spoken to the shipping company and is also in close contact with the Greek authorities. Our priority remains that there be a safe resolution to this incident," it said in a statement.