BUENOS AIRES–Argentina lodged a complaint against Ghana with the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea Wednesday, demanding that the West African country immediately release an Argentine navy training vessel seized last month in a dispute with creditors.
The complaint comes a week after a tense showdown at the Ghanaian port of Tema, where Argentine sailors drew their guns to prevent port workers from boarding the ship and moving it to a more remote berth.
The tall ship ARA Libertad set sail in June to visit ports in the South Atlantic, Caribbean, Europe and Africa with 326 people aboard, including guests from Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and South Africa. It was scheduled to return to Buenos Aires on Dec. 8.
But on Oct. 2, Ghana commercial court judge Richard Adjei-Frimpong ordered the 130-meter long ship held at port until Argentina honors U.S. judicial rulings won by Elliott Management Corp.’s NML Capital Ltd. in a dispute over Argentina’s defaulted bonds. Argentina will have to put up a $20 million bond to secure the ship’s release, according to the judge.
Ghana has “violated international law protecting the immunity of warships,” Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said Wednesday. Argentina is demanding that “Ghana provide indemnity for the damages produced and publicly apologize,” Mr. Timerman said.
The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg, Germany, formed in 1996, is charged with settling disputes under the United Nations’ Convention on the Law of the Sea.
In a statement Wednesday, the tribunal said that Argentina had asked that Ghana “unconditionally enable the Argentine warship Frigate ARA Libertad to leave the Tema port and the jurisdictional waters of Ghana and to be resupplied to that end.” A hearing will be held at “the earliest possible date,” according to the statement.
The case at the Hamburg tribunal is only the latest chapter in a long legal saga stemming from Argentina’s massive sovereign default in 2001. About 93% of the defaulted bonds were tendered in 2005 and 2010, but a few holdouts turned their noses up at the deal that offered just 33 cents on the dollar and have dogged Argentina in courts across the globe to collect the full value of the bonds.
NML Capital Ltd. has a court order saying it is still owed $1.6 billion and a U.S. appeals court in late October ordered Argentina to begin paying NML and the other holdouts alongside the rest of its creditors. A spokesman for NML, which is controlled by U.S. hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, declined to comment.
Federal Judge Thomas Griesa in New York is hammering out the details on how such payments must be made.
In the meantime, the captain of the ARA Libertad and a skeleton crew of 44 are marooned on the ship without any electricity or water hookup from shore. Ghanaian port authorities unplugged the services last week, complaining that the ship is causing a major backup at the port and needs to be moved away from the main dock.
Argentina’s defense ministry has called the attempt to board the ship and move it as a “clear violation of our sovereignty and a hostile act.”
The armed crew has been ordered by Argentina’s defense ministry to block any attempt to board the ship.
-By Shane Romig. (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.