A U.N. court ordered Ghana on Saturday to release the Argentine frigate Libertad immediately, after being held for two and a half years with its entire crew in the small African country's port of Tema.

The president of the Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, Japan's Shunji Yanai, said the 21-judge court unanimously ruled that the navy training vessel must be released unconditionally.

Argentina successfully argued that a military vessel like the Libertad may not be impounded, according to article 290, paragraph 5, of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Members of the court gave Ghana until Dec. 22 to report back to them on the release of the large Argentine sailing ship, and demanded that the African country aid in supplying the ship's provisions before it leaves Ghanaian waters.

The Libertad has been detained at Tema since Oct. 2 as a result of a complaint by NML Capital Ltd, a U.S. hedge fund that is demanding that Argentina pay up on sovereign bonds in default since late 2001, when the country was in the midst of an economic meltdown.

Argentina subsequently restructured most of the nearly $100 billion in defaulted debt, convincing creditors to accept roughly 30 cents on the dollar.

NML is among a group of U.S. bondholders who demand full repayment and have attempted to seize a range of Argentine assets, including the presidential aircraft.

The Argentine government refers to NML as a "vulture fund" and calls the detention of the Libertad an attempt at "extortion." EFE