Ghana court seizes Argentine navy's signature ship

Thursday 25 October 2012 12.28
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A crew member of the Argentine frigate ARA Libertad kisses a woman upon his arrival in Ezeiza's International airport in Buenos Aires
A crew member of the Argentine frigate ARA Libertad kisses a woman upon his arrival in Ezeiza's International airport in Buenos Aires
Crew members of the Argentine frigate ARA Libertad arrive to Ezeiza's International airport in Buenos Aires
Crew members of the Argentine frigate ARA Libertad arrive to Ezeiza's International airport in Buenos Aires
A sailor from the Argentinian frigate Libertad seized in a port in Ghana in connection with a debt dispute, runs pas the frigate
A sailor from the Argentinian frigate Libertad seized in a port in Ghana in connection with a debt dispute, runs pas the frigate
Crew members of the Argentine frigate ARA Libertad arrive to Ezeiza's International airport
Crew members of the Argentine frigate ARA Libertad arrive to Ezeiza's International airport

Hundreds of sailors have had to leave the Argentine navy's signature sailing ship moored in Africa, after it was seized by a court in a debt dispute.

The sailors had hoped to sail the tall ship Libertad back across the Atlantic and arrive in Buenos Aires in full glory, but relatives waiting for them at the airport with balloons and banners said the sailors felt ashamed instead.

It appears the Libertad may be stuck indefinitely in Ghana, since President Cristina Fernandez refuses to negotiate with the investors who persuaded a judge to hold it as collateral for Argentina's unpaid debts.

NML Capital Ltd. wants Argentina to forfeit a $20mUS dollar bond in order to free the ship, but Ms Fernandez has said she won't pay them a dime.

NML Capital told the judge in Ghana that the three-masted ship could set sail as soon as Argentina pays US$20m against more than US$300m the investment fund says Argentina owes on bonds that were defaulted on when the South American country suffered economic collapse a decade ago.

Instead, Ms Fernandez sent her ministers to Ghana and the United Nations in failed attempts to persuade Ghana's government to overturn the judge's order.

The president's position saddened the ship's young sailors, who were hoping to sail back to South America.

Because any other Argentine government asset sent to pick up the navy cadets could be seized as well, Fernandez's government was forced to hire an Air France charter to bring back the sailors, who include citizens of a half-dozen South American nations.

NML Capital is a subsidiary of billionaire Paul Singer's Elliott Capital Management fund, which has demanded payment in full plus

interest for its share of the US$100bn in bonds that Argentina defaulted on a decade ago.

The vast majority of bondholders settled for 30 cents on the dollar, but Singer held out and has become Argentina's worst enemy by filing suits around the world to embargo the country's assets.

The ship's captain and a skeleton crew were left behind to maintain the Libertad at Ghana's Tema Port, where authorities complained that it has become a nuisance, costing the government thousands of dollars a day in lost fees by forcing delays in transferring cargo to other ships that are now lining up at sea.

The Argentine newspaper La Nacion reported that Ghana's Ports Authority director, Margaret Campbell, asked the judge to order the Libertad moved to a less-busy berth.

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