HAMBURG Nov 29 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)