Armed crew prevents ship move

Sailors aboard an Argentine navy sailing ship seized in a billion-dollar international debt controversy brandished weapons to block Ghanaian officials from moving the vessel to a less busy dock.

Crewmen on the ARA Libertad showed their rifles to deter Ghanaian officials from boarding the South American ship on Thursday, Kumi Adjei-Sam, corporate affairs manager of Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority, said.

Ghana's government has not commented on the show of force against its officials.

Ghanaian judge Richard Agyei-Frimpong ruled last week that the Libertad should be moved from its current position while Argentina fights a court order to hold the ship against payment of £817m (€1.02bn) to a group holding bonds on which Argentina defaulted in 2002.

Ports officials say the ship's current location prevents other vessels from berthing, costing the agency tens of thousands in lost fees every day.

Argentina's Defence Ministry said on Friday the ship would not budge while the detention order was being contested.

It said the ship's crew, under orders from Buenos Aires, pulled up the gangplank to prevent Ghanaian authorities from boarding. In response, Ghana shut off water and electricity and brought a crane to lift officials on to the ship to move it.

"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," the Argentine ministry said.

The ministry said the Ghanaians should stop "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".

Ghanaian courts ordered the ship detained on October 2 in response to US court decisions in favour of investors holding bonds on which Argentina defaulted.

Argentina's problems grew larger on Friday, when US District Judge Thomas Griesa warned President Cristina Fernandez not to "defy and evade" his orders on how much Latin America's third-largest economy will have to pay bondholders.

Judge Griesa will decide the amount on December 1, a day before Argentina is due to make the first of three payments of more than £1.8bn (€2.25bn) to bondholders who accepted restructuring of their debt at a loss.

Some of the money will go to NML Capital and other holdout plaintiffs who are seeking about £817m in unpaid principal and interest, Judge Griesa said.

Ms Fernandez has refused to post £12.5m (€15.6m) with a court in Ghana to release the Libertad and insists Argentina will not pay a single centavo to what she calls "vulture funds" that held or bought up the defaulted bonds that remained after other holders agreed to restructure more than 90% of the debt in 2005 and 2010. Many received as little as 25 cents on the dollar.

Argentina lost its long battle against bond holdouts in the US courts last month, when an appellate panel rejected every argument Fernandez's government made against paying $1.33bn (€1bn) in principle and interest to investors holding the original bonds.

The ruling effectively gave Argentina a stark choice: either pay 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, but the US appellate court said "nothing in the record supports Argentina's blanket assertion".

It agreed with Judge Griesa, who ruled that with more than £25bn (€31.2bn) in foreign reserves, Argentina has the ability to pay.

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