Photo: ARA Libertad
The Argentine government threw a big party to welcome home a navy vessel that was seized in Ghana last year at the request of a hedge fund seeking full repayment on defaulted debt.
Several thousand people, including supporters of President Cristina Fernandez’s Front for Victory alliance, government officials and relatives of crew members of the ARA Libertad, gathered at the seaside resort of Mar del Plata for the celebration, which featured an air show, music and fireworks.
Fernandez railed against vulture funds that have refused to accept a steep haircut on the sovereign bonds that Argentina defaulted on a decade ago, calling them “veritable social predators.”
“We’re a government used to suffering external, internal or global pressure. We’re going to keep resisting,” said the president, who was repeatedly interrupted by shouts of “fatherland, yes; colony, no.”
The navy frigate, which is being used as a training vessel, sailed up and down the coast for several hours so the thousands gathered on the beaches of Mar del Plata - about 400 kilometers (250 miles) south of Buenos Aires - could see it.
The ARA Libertad on Wednesday culminated its longest-ever training voyage, which began on June 2 in Buenos Aires and took it to ports in Brazil, Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela, Portugal, Spain, Morocco and Senegal before it was seized in Ghana.
The ship was impounded in that West African country in early October when a court there granted an injunction by Cayman Islands-based hedge fund NML Capital Ltd., which is seeking to fully collect on some $284 million in unpaid bonds, plus interest.
That amount represents a small portion of Argentina’s roughly $93 billion sovereign-debt default in 2001-2002, when the country was mired in one of the steepest economic crises in its history.
But the Hamburg, Germany-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ruled on Dec. 15 that the ship must be released immediately, accepting Argentina’s argument that the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea prohibits military vessels like the Libertad from being seized.
The vast majority of Argentina’s creditors eventually agreed to accept roughly 30 cents on the dollar for the defaulted bonds, but some holdouts, including NML Capital, remain.