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Seized Argentine naval ship remains in Ghana pending court order; US hedge fund seeks payment

Ghanaian officials on Friday refused to release an Argentine naval ship that was seized in the West African nation due to a complaint by a U.S. hedge fund.

Officials of the Ghana Ports and Harbors Authority told The Associated Press they will release the ship only after they receive a court order. The tall ship ARA Libertad is being held at Tema port near the capital, Accra.

The complicated case involves players in three nations: Argentina, Ghana and the United States. The ARA Libertad is a three-masted tall ship that stopped at Tema while training hundreds of Argentinian navy cadets.

Asked for comment, the Ghanaian minister of information said he was not aware of the seizure of the ship. The public affairs officers of both the ministry of defense and the Ghana Armed Forces would not comment. Security personnel at the port refused entry to an AP reporter investigating the case.

The seizure of the flagship of Argentina's navy stems from a complaint from a U.S. hedge fund. Elliott Capital Management's lawyers have searched worldwide for ways of collecting on Argentine bonds bought at fire-sale prices after the South American country's record debt default a decade ago. The $15 billion hedge fund is run by billionaire Paul Singer.

Most bondholders eventually agreed to cancel Argentina's bad debts for about 30 cents on the dollar, but Singer is among those holding out for the full promised value of those notes, plus interest. Courts in the United States and Britain have granted judgments worth $1.6 billion to the hedge fund, but it and other bondholders are still suing for billions more. Argentina has refused to pay.

The Argentine foreign ministry says the seizure violates international law and that President Cristina Fernandez will not bend to extortion. Diplomats are working with the African government to "clarify the trickery that these unscrupulous financiers have mounted," the ministry said.

A court in Ghana on Tuesday ordered the ship to be held in port until Argentina posts a court bond equal to its value, which could be $10 million or more. Singer would then try to collect that money.

"The vessel arrived at Tema on Monday and we received a court injunction for its seizure because of debts it owed in the U.S., soon after," said Kumi Adjei-Sam, marketing and corporate affairs manager of Ghana's ports and harbors authority. "We are only complying with the court order and whenever we receive information that the parties have resolved the issues involved, we would release the vessel which has 300 officers and men."

Argentinian authorities say the crew are fine.

"The crew is going on with their normal routine," and the treatment they've received from local authorities in Ghana is optimal, a navy spokesman in Buenos Aires said Friday, speaking under condition of anonymity according to military rules.

Argentina's ambassador in Nigeria, Maria Susana Pataro, is responsible for the South American nation's affairs in Ghana, and has been participating in negotiations with the authorities in Ghana to liberate the Libertad.

The decision by the court in Ghana forbidding the Libertad from leaving the port of Tema is all the more poignant given the stark contrasts between the small West African country and the Latin American regional power, said J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa program at the Washington-based Atlantic Council.

Argentina has twice the population, twelve times the GDP, and eight times the foreign exchange reserves of Ghana, Pham noted.

[Source: The Washington Post, AP, Tema, Ghana, 05Oct12]

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