Latin America & Caribbean

Seized ship crew back in Argentina from Ghana

Most of the crew of an Argentine navy ship, which was impounded as part of a debt dispute some three weeks ago in Ghana, are now back in Buenos Aires.

The nearly 300 sailors flew back on board an Air France plane chartered by the Argentine government.

A skeleton crew is staying on board the three-masted Libertad to maintain it.

The ship was stopped from leaving Ghana after a local court ruled in favour of a US hedge fund that says it is still owed money by the Argentine government.

The fund, NML Capital, argued it was owed $370m (£231m) as a result of Argentina's debt default a decade ago.

It is seeking $20m (£12.5m) in return for the release of the ship, a three-masted training vessel.

'Blackmail'

An earlier plan for the sailors to fly back on an Argentine plane was scrapped because of fears that the aircraft might itself be impounded as part of the debt dispute.

But on Wednesday, they boarded a charter flight to Buenos Aires where they arrived in the early hours of Thursday morning to be greeted by friends and family.

Image caption The Libertad has been held in the Ghanaian port of Tema since the beginning of October

Cpl Ariel Bejarano told the BBC it had been emotional to leave the Libertad.

"I'm happy to see my family again, but I'm also sad at what has happened with the frigate. I wanted to complete my journey and there is not much more I can do."

As well as Argentines, sailors form Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay and Venezuela had been on board.

On Tuesday, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner condemned the Libertad's seizure and made it clear there would be no negotiations with creditors.

She said Argentina would not bow to "blackmail by vulture funds".

"As long as I am president, they can keep the frigate but nobody is going to keep the liberty, sovereignty and dignity of this country," she said.

NML Capital is a subsidiary of US hedge fund Elliot Capital Management, one of Argentina's former creditors.

In 2001 and 2002, Argentina defaulted on more than $100bn (£62bn) of debt.

Most of these loans were subsequently restructured, giving creditors about 30% of their money back.

However, some creditors including Elliot chose to hold out, pursuing the Argentine government through the courts.

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