Crew of Argentine ship seized in Ghana fly home

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 24, 2012 4:33 PM
Crew of Argentine ship seized in Ghana fly home

By Kwasi Kpodo

ACCRA (Reuters) - Nearly 300 crew members of an Argentine training vessel seized in Ghana flew home on Wednesday after spending weeks in dockside limbo where their ship was detained on behalf of creditors seeking money lost on defaulted bonds.

The ARA Libertad, a tall sailing ship with a crew of more than 330, was detained in Ghana's eastern port of Tema on October 2 on a court order obtained by NML Capital Ltd, which claims Argentina owes it $300 million from defaulted bonds.

The cadets boarded a chartered Air France flight in Ghana's capital Accra bound for Buenos Aires, taking off after a four-hour delay, according to a Reuters witness.

A statement posted on the website of Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez said they will arrive home on Wednesday evening and would return to training on November 5 following medical checks.

"When they return from their break, the midshipmen will resume training that will allow them to meet the objectives necessary to graduate as planned on December 8," the statement read.

Immigration officials processed 279 sailors for departure on Wednesday. A skeleton crew required for the essential maintenance of the ship remained behind.

Argentina's Foreign Minister Hector Timerman launched a diplomatic offensive in New York on Monday, urging top United Nations officials to pressure Ghana to release the ship.

The government of Argentina has rejected claims for debt repayment by NML Capital and other companies pursuing the South American nation in U.S. courts over its massive 2002 debt default, calling them "vulture funds."

Argentina's defense ministry initially filed a motion contesting the detention claiming sovereign immunity for the military vessel, but a court in Accra upheld the seizure as legal.

A senior Ghanaian official said the government had no influence over the decision of the court and had encouraged Argentina to pursue the matter via the proper legal channels.

"The Ghana government is not a party to the dispute and will not be drawn into it," the official said, asking not to be named.

"They have appealed as advised and this means they are ready to participate in the legal process," he said.

President Fernandez ordered the 326 sailors to evacuate the detained ship at the weekend claiming their human rights were violated because a judge had prohibited fuel deliveries required to run plumbing and emergency equipment.

(Reporting by Kwasi Kpodo, Additional reporting by Hugh Bronstein in Buenos Aires; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Michael Roddy)