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november 12, 2012 • 11:32 AM

Argentina says to sue Ghana over detained naval tall ship

 

Argentina vowed to file suit against Ghana at a United Nations maritime tribunal on Wednesday if the country does not release a tall sailing ship seized after creditors won a court order to keep the vessel in port.

The frigate ARA Libertad, a naval training ship, was detained in Ghana's eastern port of Tema on October 2 at the request of NML Capital Ltd, which claims Argentina owes it $300 million on bonds in default since 2002.

The South American country says international law prohibits warships from being seized in foreign ports.

"Tomorrow, Tuesday, November 13th, all the deadlines expire for Ghana's government to lift the embargo, recognizing the Convention on the Law of the Sea," Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman told reporters in Buenos Aires on Monday.

He said if Ghana did not release the ship, Argentina would be able to take its case to the Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea the following day.

"The ministry's legal representatives are already in that city to initiate these legal actions," Timerman said.

Last week, a skeleton crew aboard the Libertad displayed their weapons on deck to keep Ghanaian port authorities from forcibly boarding the ship to move it to another berth. The port officials eventually desisted.

Timerman said Argentina had appealed a court order allowing the ship to be moved, which meant the order was suspended. Officials say the embargo violates Argentine sovereignty.

"We have nothing against the ship or the crew," said the harbor master in Tema, James Quayson. "Every action that we have taken so far was based on the decisions of the court."

Ghanaian officials say their country is not a party to the dispute and Argentina must respect the local legal process.

The Libertad was built to carry out training exercises and it has taken sailors on 40 expeditions since 1963. Its elegant, billowing sails harken back to the 19th century.

Creditors including NML have won several billion dollars in damages over Argentina's default in U.S. courts, but they have largely been unable to collect because most Argentine assets are protected by sovereign immunity laws.

The litigating creditors are called holdouts because they rejected Argentina's 2005 and 2010 debt swaps, through which the country restructured about 93 percent of the roughly $100 billion it defaulted on a decade ago.

The government refers to funds like NML as "vulture funds" because they buy distressed or defaulted debt and then sue in international courts to get paid in full.

President Cristina Fernandez said recently that Argentina will not pay "one dollar to the vulture funds."

(Reporting by Hilary Burke; Additional reporting by Kwasi Kpodo in Accra; Editing by Jackie Frank)

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