Argentine navy chief resigns after Ghana seizes ship over debt

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2012, 10:10am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 4:13am

The commander of the Argentine navy resigned on Monday and the government punished two naval officers over Ghana’s seizure of a three-masted tall ship after a dispute with creditors.

The Argentine training ship called Libertad, or freedom, has been retained in the Ghanaian port of Tema near the capital Accra since October 2.

Ghana is holding it because investors who bought Argentine bonds years ago, on which the government has defaulted, filed suit in Accra to hold up the vessel pending payment of those debts.

President Cristina Kirchner’s office issued a terse statement on Monday saying navy commander Admiral Carlos Alberto Paz had been replaced. It did not state a reason.

Earlier, however, the Argentine defence ministry suspended two officers over the decision to have the Libertad stop over in Accra with more than 200 sailors on board.

The majestic square-rigged Libertad, used now by graduating Argentine naval cadets, established the world record in 1966 for a transatlantic crossing by a sailing ship.

Last year the ship only made stops in the Latin American region, a move press reports said was aimed at a dodging any lawsuits over unpaid debt.

But this year the ship toured Latin America, Europe and several ports in Africa before being nabbed in Ghana.

A defence ministry statement issued on Monday said the former organisational chief of the navy, Alfredo Mario Blanco, had changed the ship’s itinerary, citing “operational reasons”, and is now being investigated.

Also suspended and under investigation is Admiral Luis Gonzalez, the navy’s secretary general.

NML Capital – a so-called “vulture fund” that bought Argentine bonds at a discount when the country’s economy was in freefall in 2000 – claims in documents filed in a Ghanaian court that it is owed more than US$370 million, including the outstanding principle plus the interest.

Buenos Aires has rescheduled and refinanced much of its debt, but bonds held by speculative funds are among Argentina’s unsettled business.