Ghana court upholds seizure of Argentine ship


ACCRA, Ghana -- A Ghanaian court Thursday ruled against releasing an Argentine naval vessel which is currently being held at Tema Port near here.

The commercial court decided that the ARA Libertad should be prevented from leaving because of claims against the Argentine state by creditors in the United States.

The U.S. creditors are demanding payment in full for Argentine bonds for which most investors accepted 30 cents on the dollar in 2005.

The court earlier ordered the seizure of the Argentine tall sailing ship at Tema harbor following judgments against Argentina issued by the United States District Court and supported by similar court rulings in the United Kingdom.

Justice Richard Agyei-Frimpong said Thursday that Argentina had not shown why the injunction on the ship should be set aside. The judge upheld his earlier ruling to restrain the ship, which came to Ghana on a goodwill mission as part of a West African tour.

Argentina's navy and foreign ministry had no immediate comment on the ruling.

Luis Suarez, who works in the tall ship's galley, told an Argentine radio station that the crew members have access to Internet and phones and are able to communicate with their families back home. He said there are no shortages of goods aboard the ship and that the crew rode buses into town to buy things. But he said their movements are restricted and no one knows when the ship will be allowed to leave.

"We are not freely circulating," he said.

Now that a Ghanaian judge has dismissed the Argentine attempt to get the Libertad released, the next step is for the creditors, NML, to initiate more legal proceedings leading to an auction of the ship. The threat of that auction, NML hopes, will be enough to pressure Argentina to post a bond with the court reflecting the ship's value. At that point, the ship and its crew would be able to leave port, Argentina would forfeit the bond, and NML would collect the money.

The three-masted sailing ship, a navy training vessel, is worth millions of dollars, although exactly how many millions remains to be seen.

"Ghana's court upheld the rule of law today. This was a victory for the country, and the people of Ghana are the beneficiaries," Robert Raben, the director of the American Task Force Argentina, a Washington lobbying group representing jilted bondholders, said in a statement Thursday.

"As a country upholds the rule of law, investment increases and the economy grows. This is precisely the opposite direction that Argentina has gone _ repudiating debt that it has the ability to pay, defying court judgments, nationalizing (the oil producing firm) YPF, expropriation of public pension assets. As a result of these policies, investment into Argentina has evaporated, and it has become isolated from the international community."


AP writers Almudena Calatrava and Michael Warren in Buenos Aires contributed to this report.