A crew of six Libyans working on a government tug boat diverted the vessel to Malta due to inclement weather while on their way to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi over the weekend.

The tug boat, Almergheb, left from Tripoli and was intercepted by the Armed Forces of Malta on Sunday night one kilometre off Delimara.

Secrecy shrouded the incident, possibly in an attempt to protect the identity of those who defected, with the AFM, police and the Justice Ministry giving no details of what happened.

Sources said the crew members claimed to have defected from Libyan leader Muammar Gad­dafi’s service, taking the boat with them and heading for Ben­­­ghazi.

They claimed to be communicating with the Benghazi council on the high seas to negotiate safe harbour. But due to bad weather, the unarmed crew decided to turn to Malta and continue negotiations from here.

Once negotiations are concluded, the crew is expected to make its way back to Benghazi. But in the meantime, the Maltese authorities are investigating to verify their story.

The boat, which is Libya-registered, was berthed in Grand Harbour yesterday. Its journey was not tracked on ship tracking sites because its communications system was deliberately switched off.

Sources denied earlier rumours that there were any high profile members on board, insisting they were civilians who worked for the Libyan government and not military personnel or politicians.

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