Seized Argentine ship blocks Ghana port

An Argentine navy frigate impounded three weeks ago at the behest of a US hedge fund is causing “crippling disruptions” at Ghana’s biggest seaport, the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority said as it applied for a court order to have the vessel moved.

The Libertad, which docked in the port of Tema on October 1 and had been due to leave three days later, is occupying berth 11, one of the port’s busiest slots, vital for the cement and steel industries, the authority said in the motion seen by the Financial Times.

That berth is usually occupied back-to-back so ships carrying clinker and cement have had to be diverted to another slot, pushing out other vessels which have ended up in queues. “Presently there are about 16 to 18 vessels now lying at the anchorage waiting for space at the port,” the authority said.

Argentina’s flagship navy training vessel, a 100 metre-long tall ship, was seized on October 2 after a court granted an injunction by NML Capital, a subsidiary of the billionaire Paul Singer’s Elliott Capital Management, which is seeking to collect on bonds unpaid since Argentina’s default on almost $100bn in 2001.

Argentina has vowed to fight what it argues is a violation of diplomatic immunity through Ghanaian and international courts and has refused to post a $20m bond that would release the vessel. It has criticised what it sees as an “act of piracy” by a “vulture fund” which preyed on distressed assets but wants to be repaid in full.

Héctor Timerman, the foreign minister, took Argentina’s case to Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, and other senior UN officials on Monday. According to Mr Timerman, the UN chief pledged to use his good offices with Accra, which Argentina holds responsible for guaranteeing the immunity of warships.

Argentina last week became a temporary member of the UN Security Council and Mr Timerman has used his Twitter account to draw parallels between the ship and Falkland Islands, which Argentina claims as the Malvinas. “They are both being held captive and must be freed according to international law,” he wrote.

Cristina Fernández, Argentina’s president, used a speech broadcast on all television and radio stations to reaffirm Argentina’s determination not to yield to vulture funds.

“As long as I am president, they can keep the frigate but not the liberty, sovereignty and dignity of this country,” she said. “No vulture fund, no one gets to keep that.”

Vessels carrying shipments for Ghana’s oil industry are among those stuck in queues at Tema as the country heads into its peak pre-Christmas import period.

The port authority said the Libertad’s extended stay was causing it “considerable and substantial hardship and financial losses” – six days at berth 11 cost nearly $22,000 – and could result in ships having to be diverted to neighbouring countries or shipping companies slapping on surcharges that would end up boosting import costs. It wants to move the Libertad out of the berth and anchor it elsewhere in the port. The court is expected to rule on the motion on October 25.

“There is no likelihood that the said vessel will be released from detention any time soon . . . there is therefore every likelihood that this purely private commercial dispute . . . may linger on for a long time and the Ghana Ports & Harbours Authority cannot be saddled with the burden and inconvenience” of having the ship continue to occupy a busy berth, the authority said in its filing.

Argentina has meanwhile chartered an Air France aircraft – it is not using its own flag carrier, Aerolíneas Argentinas, for fear of further embargoes – to evacuate 281 crew members, who will arrive back in Buenos Aires on Wednesday night. The ship’s captain and a skeleton crew of 44 will remain with the ship.