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Fund in Argentine ship row offers to repatriate some sailors
by Staff Writers
Accra (AFP) Oct 19, 2012

A fund whose court claims have led to the seizure of an Argentine warship in Ghana has offered to repatriate its stranded sailors who are "of other nationalities," according to a letter obtained by AFP Friday.

A source familiar with the case said on condition of anonymity that the offer applied only to non-Argentine crew members.

The crew includes some 200 members. Most of them are Argentines, but they also include eight from Uruguay, 15 from Chile and one each from Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Suriname, Peru, South Africa and Venezuela.

"In further, specific reference to the issue concerning the sailors of other nationalities on the vessel, our client instructs that it does not intend to inconvenience them in any way," the letter signed by the fund's lawyer Ace Ankomah says.

"Thus, even in the absence of the bond, NML Capital Limited is willing, effectively immediately, to bear all expenses to fly any sailor to his or her respective home country."

The letter dated October 15 and addressed to the lawyer representing Argentina in Ghana says NML is willing to pay for the sailors' return if Buenos Aires declines to pay a bond of $20 million to release the ship.

A copy of the letter provided a different version than Ankomah gave in an interview earlier in the day, having signaled that the fund was willing to repatriate all stranded sailors.

The seizure of the three-masted stately ship on October 2 has caused controversy in Argentina.

The head of Argentina's military intelligence resigned Thursday in the wake of the seizure, a source said. His resignation followed that of the commander of the Argentine navy, Carlos Alberto Paz, on Monday.

Argentina's government has also punished two high-ranking naval officers over the decision to have the ARA Libertad and its crew stop over at the port.

The boat, which went to the West African nation for a training mission, was seized by port officials in Tema under a court order secured by the Cayman Islands investment group that claims Buenos Aires owes it more than $370 million (283 million euros).

In an effort to defuse the crisis, a delegation consisting of Deputy Defense Secretary Alfredo Forti and Deputy Foreign Minister Eduardo Zuain was sent to Ghana.

Details of discussions with the Ghanaian government have however not been made clear, and Ankomah said NML was not involved in the meetings.

Ankomah has previously said the Libertad could be released "tomorrow" if Argentina posts a bond of $20 million.

The ship's crew is mostly Argentinian, with a smattering of nationals from elsewhere in South America and at least one South African on board, the Argentinian navy has said.

Chile has also said it planned to send envoys to Ghana, with 15 Chilean sailors among the crew.

NML Capital -- a so-called "vulture fund" -- bought Argentine bonds at a discount when the country's economy was in freefall in 2000. Buenos Aires later defaulted.

The country has rescheduled and refinanced much of its debt, but bonds held by speculative funds are among Argentina's unsettled business.

While the courts have barred the Libertad from leaving, the crew can come and go from the warship as they please.

They have passed the time visiting a nearby mall and a resort hotel as well as by playing football, among other activities.


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