Agence France Presse
Published — Friday 11 January 2013
Last update 11 January 2013 12:44 am
Mar del Plata, Argentina: With pomp and politicking, Argentina greeted the arrival Wednesday of a three-masted navy frigate caught up in a debt tussle stemming from the country’s economic collapse a decade ago.
“Argentina once again has been attacked by speculative funds, and by others who threaten to come 12,000 kilometers (7,450 miles) to invade and militarize our Malvinas” (Falkland Islands), a defiant President Cristina Kirchner said.
She was referring to British Prime Minister David Cameron, and the fund that had held the Argentine ship.
“We say to them, proudly and with conviction: what we see before us today is a lesson for history,” Kirchner told thousands of tourists lining the port of Mar del Plata as the Libertad — impounded in Ghana for 78 days until it was ordered freed by a UN court in December — finally arrived back home.
It is summer now in Argentina, and maximum impact Kirchner, whose popularity is at a historic low, chose to have the ship — dazzling white in the sun — arrive in the coastal resort city rather than the capital because Buenos Aires is quieter than usual due to vacation season.
Military bands piped up patriotic tunes as three small planes soared overhead leaving patriotic blue-and-white trails and more than 100 sailing and fishing boats escorted the frigate into port in the culmination of what the government is billing as a big victory amid economic battles on various fronts.
The 104-meter (341-foot) long Libertad, with 27 sails, is used for training voyages by navy cadets and is the pride of the Argentine navy. It was first launched in 1956, made its first training mission in 1963 and since then has logged 40 more for a total of 720,000 nautical miles as it visited more than 500 ports and 60 countries.
Lately, its fate has been less glorious. It spent weeks docked at a port near Ghana’s capital Accra starting Oct. 2, under a Ghanaian court order requested and obtained by NML Capital — a Cayman Islands investment firm that says Argentina owes it $370 million.
Argentina rescheduled and refinanced much of its debt following an economic crisis and massive default a decade ago. But bonds held by speculative funds such as NML, a subsidiary of New York-based Elliott Management Corporation, are among its unsettled business.
The Germany-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ordered the ship released on Dec. 15 and most of the 326 crew members were soon flown home. A team of 100 sailors was later sent back to Ghana to sail the ship home.
Argentina appeared to have learned a related lesson, however.
It chartered a plane — rather than use one of its own and risk another court-ordered seizure — for an Asia trip that Kirchner is set to begin Thursday with a stopover in Cuba’s capital, Havana.