Seized Argentine naval ship gets jubilant homecoming

MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina Wed Jan 9, 2013 7:58pm EST

1 of 6. Acrobatic aircrafts perform a flypass as Argentine navy vessel ARA Libertad arrives at the harbor of the seaside resort of Mar del Plata January 9, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Enrique Marcarian

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MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina (Reuters) - An Argentine navy ship was given a triumphant homecoming on Wednesday three months after it was seized in Ghana on behalf of a hedge fund suing over defaulted government bonds.

The ARA Libertad, a tall sailing ship used as a training vessel, was detained in the West African nation on October 2 due to a court order obtained by NML Capital Ltd as it fights to get full repayment for the bonds in the courts.

Argentina's government, which calls funds like NML "vultures," asked a U.N. maritime court to intervene and the Hamburg-based tribunal ordered the ship's release last month.

The detention of the Libertad during a tour of Africa was a blow for Argentina's efforts to put the 2002 debt crisis behind it and drew a furious response from left-leaning President Cristina Fernandez.

Fernandez hailed the Libertad's return as a triumph of sovereignty over "anarcho-capitalism."

"The vultures were there (but) we didn't listen to them, we listened to the people's demand," she said.

"We're going to keep on fighting because no one's going to get anything out of Argentina with extortion and strong-arm tactics," she told crowds of supporters and vacationers in the seaside town of Mar del Plata.

Plumes of white and sky blue smoke - representing the colors of the national flag, and a celebratory fly-past greeted the ship as it pulled into harbor.

Latin America's third-biggest economy has yet to return to global credit markets 11 years since staging the biggest sovereign debt default in history and legal wrangling with creditors continues.

A U.S. appeals court will start hearing oral arguments next month in a case that could eventually force Argentina to pay bondholders who rejected two debt restructurings in 2005 and 2010 to battle for full payment in the courts.

In order to avoid the risk of having the presidential plane seized by holdout creditors, Fernandez has hired a private aircraft for a four-nation tour of Asia and the Middle East at a cost of $880,000, the government said this week.

(Writing by Helen Popper; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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