ACCRA — A judge in Ghana on Thursday rejected a bid by Argentina to have one of its warships released from a port near Accra, where it is being held under a court order linked to a debt dispute.
"No sufficient basis has been made been made by the applicant (Argentina) to set aside this court order. The motion is dismissed," said Judge Richard Adjei Frimpong of the Commercial Court in Accra.
The frigate Libertad was seized on October 2 under a court order linked to claims by creditors NML Capital, which are suing Buenos Aires over its 2002 bond default.
While their vessel is confined to Ghana's largest port of Tema, the sailors on board, who travelled to the West African nation for a training mission, are welcome to explore their surroundings, a port official told AFP.
The lawyer representing Argentina has said the crew includes 200 people.
According to the Argentine navy, they include 69 Argentines, eight from Uruguay, 15 from Chile and one each from Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Suriname, Peru, South Africa and Venezuela.
"Nobody has forced them to stay on the ship," said the head of Ghana's port authority, Richard Anamoo. "They are free to move around."
Lawyers acting for Argentina have argued that as a military vessel, the frigate enjoyed immunity.
NML Capital has argued that Argentina waived its immunity linked to the debt at issue under an accord called a Fiscal Agency Agreement (FAA), and the Ghanaian court on Thursday agreed.
"I find that the defendant in clear terms waived the immunity through the FAA agreement," said Frimpong. He urged the two sides to attempt to negotiate a resolution and a subsequent hearing date was not immediately set.
In the meantime, the large vessel remains docked between a cruise ship and fishing trawler at the bustling port, where dozens of sailors were visible milling around above deck on Thursday, an AFP reporter said.
"We don't know (how long) we have to stay here," Lieutenant Luis Melian, the Libertad's spokesman, told AFP, declining to comment on how the sailors on board were spending their time.
A truck driver at Tema told AFP that he asked a group of sailors to have a group picture taken, but they refused.
Larry Otu, the lawyer representing the Argentine government, said at the hearing that the Libertad needed to refuel so that it could continue to run its power generators, and the court had asked the two sides to reach an accommodation in this and other logistical issues.
Anamoo, the ports boss, said the vessel did not need to be moved to refuel.
Between 2005 and 2010 Argentina refinanced and rescheduled its repayment of 93 percent of the almost $100 billion default it incurred in 2001.
Among the unsettled business were bonds held by speculative funds seeking to recoup their money through the courts.
Argentina also has more than $6.5 billion in debt with the Paris Club of government creditors.
Buenos Aires has said that Ghana's seizure of the Libertad "is against the Vienna Convention on diplomatic immunity".
The Latin American nation has accused the bondholders, sometimes called 'vulture funds', of perpetrating a fraud in Ghanaian courts, while port officials in Ghana have said they are compelled to honour the domestic court's ruling.
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