Argentina welcomes home ship held in Ghana by US 'vulture fund'

Naval vessel impounded for two and half months returns to triumphant homecoming

Mar del Plata, Argentina

Thousands of flag-waving Argentinians welcomed home the ARA Libertad this evening, the naval vessel impounded in Ghana for two and half months at the request of a US "vulture fund" that claimed it was owed millions of dollars in outstanding payments by the South American nation.

In a specially organised event in the city of Mar del Plata, headed by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and featuring brass band music, fireworks and stunt planes flying overhead, the government attempted to turn what had originally been viewed as a national humiliation into a triumphant homecoming.

As the vessel edged towards the naval base where it docked, an announcer hailed the return as a triumph of "dignity and sovereignty".

"I think it's great the boat has come back," said Abél Maranzana, 51, a newspaper seller just off the main beach, "because vulture funds have always pressurised and abused Argentina. It's good to see that the boat hasn't been handed over to those people."

Not even a planned anti-government cacerolazo near the naval base - a form of street protest involving banging pots and pans dating back to the 2001 economic crisis that has made a come back in recent months as Fernández de Kirchner's popularity has slid - could dampen the spirits of the holidaymakers, politicians and social groups in attendance.

Members of the opposition were quick to accuse the government of hijacking the homecoming for political gain. "All Argentinians celebrate the return of the Libertad," said ex-presidential candidate Ricardo Alfonsín on his Twitter account. "But as a citizen, too, it pains me how the government is making use of the arrival."

The ARA Libertad's repatriation port had been chosen to ensure maximum exposure. Mar del Plata is the country's most popular seaside resort that welcomes thousands of domestic holidaymakers every January.

The vessel, on a routine stopover, was held in the Ghanaian port of Tema on October 2 after the High Court there backed the claims of US hedge fund NML Capital - headed by billionaire Paul Singer - demanding up to US$1.6bn from the Argentinian government in debt it amassed selling bonds.

The stopover in Ghana was a ill-advised last minute change to the itinerary and the scandal left a large dent in Argentina's pride, leading to the resignation of Navy chief Carlos Alberto Paz.

Argentina argued that the detention, used as leverage by NML to try and regain its money, was illegal and took the dispute to the Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. The body subsequently ruled in Argentina's favour, ordering the immediate release of the frigate.

On December 18 Fernández de Kirchner announced that the three-mast sail ship would be returning to the resort of Mar del Plata, popular with middle and working class Argentinians. "So that all Argentinians can see the Frigata Libertad [Freedom Frigate], which also represents your freedom," she said.

Argentina refers to NML Capital and similar companies as vulture funds due to their methods of preying on developing, often heavily indebted, economies largely in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

NML originally bought cut-price government bonds back in 2000, a year before the nation's historic default. Instead of entering into Argentina's debt restructuring initiatives in 2005 and 2010 - when financiers were offered a fraction of their original investment - NML has looked to pursue the full amount it claims it is owed, plus interest, through international courts.

The Argentinian government has taken a hard-line in public against holdout investors and in October Cristina Fernández de Kirchner claimed that she would refuse to repay even a dollar to the so-called vulture funds.

In political circles the tone has been more moderate, with suggestions the government plans to reopen its 2010 restructuring negotiations with holdouts prepared to accept the same conditions as other bond buyers.

At the end of November, New York judge Thomas Griesa ruled that Argentina was obliged to make repayments to holdouts, a ruling that could have led to Argentina defaulting on its other repayment obligations. An appeals court granted the country an emergency stay of order until February 27.

After the Mar del Plata celebrations, the president will make a swift visit to Havana, Cuba, to check on the ailing health of Venezuelan ally Hugo Chávez, before beginning a tour of the UAE and Asia.

According to local newspaper reports, Fernández de Kirchner is renting an English private jet for her trip, instead of using the official Tango 01 plane, keen to avoid another high profile run-in with vulture funds on foreign soil.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific