By Louis Charbonneau and Kwasi Kpodo
UNITED NATIONS/ACCRA (Reuters) - Argentina's foreign minister launched a diplomatic offensive in New York on Monday, urging top U.N. officials to pressure Ghana to release an Argentine naval training vessel seized after creditors won a court order to keep the ship in port.
Foreign Minister Hector Timerman's appearance at U.N. headquarters came as sailors from the detained ship prepared to leave Ghana after spending weeks in dockside limbo, a government official said in Accra.
The ARA Libertad, a tall sailing ship with a crew of more than 300, has been detained in Ghana's port of Tema since October 2 on a court order obtained by NML Capital Ltd, which claims Argentina owes it $300 million from defaulted bonds.
Timerman has been in New York since last week, when Argentina was elected for a two-year term on the 15-nation U.N. Security Council that begins on January 1, 2013.
He met on Monday with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, General Assembly president Vuk Jeremic and the president of the Security Council, Guatemalan Ambassador Gert Rosenthal. Jeremic's office issued a statement after he met Timerman.
Timerman "expressed his grave concern about the situation and reiterated his call to the government of Ghana to desist from its conduct and respect its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea," and other international laws, Jeremic's office said.
"The president (Jeremic) underlined the need for all member states to fully comply with their obligations under international law and conveyed his disposition to assist both parties to reach a solution on the issue," the statement added.
Ban's office also issued a statement, saying the U.N. chief "expressed the hope that both governments will find a way to address the matter on a bilateral basis."
Speaking to reporters at the world body, Timerman said he used his U.N. meetings to make clear Argentina's opposition to Ghana's moves.
"We've said that, although we were going to exhaust all legal avenues within Ghana, we reserve the right to go to international courts because this is a violation of a convention signed by both Argentina and Ghana," Timerman said.
Timerman expressed little sympathy for NML Capital or investment funds in general.
"We're not going to negotiate with vulture funds," he said. "We're going to keep on fighting and demand in the G20 the total and absolute elimination of the possibility for these vulture funds that work from tax havens to try to stamp on the sovereignty of countries like Argentina."
NO MORE SWABBING DECKS
Meanwhile, the ship's crew stranded in Ghana was getting ready to leave the country.
"We are preparing them and most of them will start leaving tomorrow, if they are able to complete their immigration processes," a government source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
He said most of the remainder of the crew would leave in batches throughout the week.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez on Saturday ordered 326 sailors on the detained ship to evacuate - leaving just the captain and a core crew - claiming their human rights were violated because a judge had prohibited fuel deliveries required to run plumbing and emergency equipment.
Ghana said on Sunday the crew was free to depart and NML's lead lawyer, Ace Ankomah, said it would not stop them from leaving.
The sailors appeared to be in good spirits on Monday as they worked the decks. Some returned from the city with suitcases and packing boxes, a Reuters witness at the port said.
Since the ship's detention three weeks ago, the crew has often been seen jogging, playing soccer and shopping at local markets.
"Ghana is a nice country, the people are nice, but still, being here doing nothing is different from being home doing nothing," one of them, a man in his mid-20s, told Reuters during a visit to the port's duty-free shop.
Argentina declared a massive sovereign default a decade ago at the height of an economic crisis and now faces a raft of lawsuits in U.S. courts by so-called holdout bondholders seeking Argentine assets to recoup the defaulted bonds.
Ghana said it turned down demands by Argentina to release the boat because it wanted to comply with the law.
(Additional reporting by Helen Popper in Buenos Aires and Svea Herbst; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Todd Eastham)