Argentina asks UN court to order Ghana to release naval ship

HAMBURG Thu Nov 29, 2012 7:25am EST

HAMBURG Nov 29 (Reuters) - Argentina on Thursday asked a United Nations court to order the immediate release of its warship being held in Ghana under a court order there brought by holders of defaulted Argentine bonds.

The West African nation detained the frigate ARA Libertad, an Argentinian training vessel, in its port of Tema on Oct. 2 at the request of hedge fund NML Capital Ltd, which says Argentina owes it $300 million on bonds in default since 2002.

Susana Ruiz Cerutti, head of an Argentinian delegation, told the Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea that warships have immunity under international maritime law and it is a "mystery" why Ghana has not allowed the ship to leave.

Cerutti said the tribunal should order the ship's release as the United Nations convention on the law of the sea gives warships immunity from civil actions.

Creditors including NML have won several billion dollars in damages over Argentina's default in U.S. courts, but they have largely been unable to collect because most Argentine assets are protected by sovereign immunity laws.

"Because a 'vulture fund' has chosen the frigate to be the subject of proceedings does not absolve Ghana of its international obligations," Ruiz Cerutti said.

Argentina refers to funds like NML as "vulture funds" because they buy distressed or defaulted bonds and then sue in international courts to get paid in full.

The convention does not define warships as carrying weapons, the Libertad is an unarmed naval training vessel, she said.

A skeleton crew of 45 sailors remains on board the Libertad after the evacuation of about 300 crewmen.

The ship was visiting Ghana under Argentina's programme to boost cooperation and friendship in the southern hemisphere and was seized in a "brutal manner", she said. Ghana had also not replied to repeated Argentine government communications.

Ghana will start its submission to the court later on Thursday. A court spokeswoman said no date had been set for a judgement. But a decision would be expected within a month of the application being filed. Argentina filed its formal complaint on Nov. 14. (Reporting by Michael Hogan; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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