The UN International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ordered on Saturday the release of ARA Libertad, the Argentine naval training ship which has been detained in Ghana since October at the request of holders of defaulted Argentine state bonds.
The Argentine navy's tall sailing ship ARA Libertad, was retained in Ghana's port of Tema on October 2 at the request of US hedge fund NML Capital Ltd, which says Argentina owes it over 300 million dollars on bonds which have been in default since 2002.
The Hamburg seated International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea president Judge Shunji Yanai of Japan said the court ruled Ghana should release the Libertad immediately and provide the assistance the crew needs to leave the port.
Ghana must release with no conditions the frigate, guaranteeing that the vessel, its captain and the crew can leave the port of Tema and ensuring their provision” said the unanimous ruling.
The trial was initiated by Argentina 14 November and can not be appealed.
Argentina had argued the United Nations maritime convention gives warships including unarmed training vessels immunity from civil claims when calling in foreign ports.
Creditors including NML have won several billion dollars in damages over Argentina's bond default in US courts, but they have largely been unable to collect because most Argentine assets are protected by sovereign immunity laws.
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 UN court considered a statement from Argentina that attempts by authorities in Ghana to move the ship could lead to an escalation which could lead to incidents which could endanger life” Judge Yanai said.
The court also considered Argentina's claim that the ship could not be maintained correctly during its arrest and that the vessel' safety could so be endangered.
A skeleton crew remains on board the Libertad after around 300 crew and naval cadets were flown home to Argentina in October.
A government official in Ghana said the foreign ministry was preparing a statement, and could not immediately comment.
Ghana had said the issue involved complex legal action between bondholders and Argentina and that the separation of branches meant Ghana's Executive could not overrule a court decision.
Both countries must pay their own costs. The two countries must provide a further report to the court by December 22, 2012, to enable the tribunal to make further examinations of the dispute, Yanai said.
However the return could be delayed up to two months because of the preparations for the trip, “it’s not going to be an easy exit”, said Argentine Foreign ministry sources.
The Argentine legal team headed by Susuna Ruiz Cerutti was expecting a favourable ruling and the Argentine Navy had already prepared 100 crew members of which an estimated 40 will be leaving to Ghana as soon as possible to begin the return operation.
The ARA Libertad on a naval cadets’ promotion global trip had already called in Brazil, Portugal, Spain, Morocco and Senegal when it arrived in Tema October first. The following day she was impounded and a 20 million dollars bail was demanded for her release. All cadets, some of them form other countries and guests of the Argentine Navy, and most of the crew, approximately 281 abandoned Ghana a few days later and a skeleton crew of 44 were left on board.
A nasty incident almost occurred when Ghana port authorities tried to forcibly move ARA Libertad to another berth alleging the docking space was needed for commercial vessels.