Argentine crew prevent Ghana from moving ship

Associated Press

ACCRA, Ghana (AP) — The Argentine crew aboard the seized naval vessel, ARA Libertad, brandished their weapons to block Ghanaian port officials who were trying to move the vessel to a less busy spot, according to an official of the Ghana Ports and Harbors Authority.

The Argentinian sailors pulled out their rifles to prevent Ghanaian officials from boarding the vessel on Thursday, the corporate affairs manager of the ports authority, Kumi Adjei-Sam, told the Associated Press Saturday.

Last week Ghanaian Justice Richard Agyei-Frimpong ruled that the Libertad should be moved from its current position because it is preventing other vessels from berthing at the port. Ports officials said it is losing tens of thousands of dollars per day in lost berthing fees. Ghanaian authorities want to move the Libertad to a more remote berth while Argentina fights court orders in New York to pay $1.3 billion to a group of investors in the country's defaulted debt.

Argentina does not want the ship to move while it appeals the detention order, Argentina's defense ministry said Friday. The Argentinian crew, under orders from Buenos Aires, pulled up the gangplank to prevent Ghanaian authorities from boarding.

Ghana shut off the water and electricity to the ship and brought a crane to lift authorities onto the ship to move it.

"Under these circumstances, with the Ghana port authorities trying to board the vessel and move it by force, without a judicial order to back it up, an order was for the crew to show up on the deck, with its regular weapons, with the purpose of dissuading any attempt to board it," said the Argentine defense ministry. The Argentinian statement said the ship will not budge while the detention order is appeals.

Argentine Defense Minister Arturo Puricelli closely followed the showdown and called his Ghanaian counterpart, Joseph Henry Smith, to ask for his immediate intervention, the Argentine ministry said. The Argentinian ministry said it urged the Ghanaians to stop "the illegal measures such as forcing us to move and cutting off basic supplies, which represent a violation on our sovereignty and an act of hostility." They said the Ghana port authorities stopped after the intervention.

Ghana's Foreign Minister Mohammed Mumuni has not yet responded to the show of force by the Argentine crew.

Argentina has bigger problems: On Friday U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa warned President Cristina Fernandez not to "defy and evade" his orders to pay the holdouts on December 2. Argentina is awaiting a U.S. ruling on how much it will have to pay holders of the bonds that it defaulted on.

The South American country might be forced to settle with the so-called "vulture funds" that didn't accept the debt swaps in 2005 and 2010 in order to hold out for a better deal.

Argentina lost its long battle against bond holdouts in the U.S. courts last month, as an appellate panel rejected every argument it made against paying $1.33 billion to investors who refused to accept as little as 25 cents on the dollar for the country's defaulted debt in 2005.

The ruling effectively gives Argentina a stark choice: either it pays all of its bondholders equally, or pay none of them at all.

Argentina argued that forcing it to pay the holdouts could provoke another severe economic crisis in the South American country, but the U.S. appellate court said "nothing in the record supports Argentina's blanket assertion." It agreed with Griesa, who ruled that with more than $40 billion in foreign reserves, Argentina has the ability to pay. President Cristina Fernandez said Friday that U.S. courts are harming those who showed faith in Argentina during the bond restructuring.

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Associated Press Writer Luis Andres Henao contributed from Santiago, Chile, and Michael Warren from Mexico City.

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