Jewish history is surprisingly well-stocked when it comes to the topic of pirates. Following the Spanish Inquisition, some Jewish buccaneers exacted revenge upon Spanish fleets in the high Caribbean seas and made some pennies for themselves along the way. Even ancient Jews, upon conquering ports like Jaffa, Gaza, and Ashdod in the Hasmonean era, set sail with great vigor–after all, one cannot spell ahoy without the oy.
But this week, billionaire magnate and major Romney-backer Paul Singer, a new kind of Jewish pirate, took Argentina by surprise when he seized (yes, seized) the A.R.A. Libertad, an Argentine naval ship, with a court order in Ghana.
The reason for snagging the country’s $10 million ceremonial flagship? Argentina owes Singer $1.6 billion in defaulted bonds. Having not received payment, Singer tracked the prized ship and waited to ambush.
He finally got his chance when it docked at the African nation of Ghana carrying more 200 people, about 70 of whom were naval cadets in training. It seems Singer’s gambit has paid off. A Ghana court backed the seizure, ordering the Argentine government to pay an undisclosed sum before the ship will be released to them. If they refuse payment, Singer can keep the ship.
In the wake of Singer’s financial swashbuckling, Argentina has denounced him as an ‘unscrupulous financier,’ calling the move a ‘sneak attack of the vulture funds’ and a violation of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic immunity. Argentine officials have vowed not to pay the bounty, saying they wouldn’t give in to ‘international extortion.’
Should they change their minds, it will be the first money Singer has collected on the debt since courts awarded him the full $1.6 billion value of the defaulted bonds. Following Argentina’s economic crisis most bondholders settled their debts for 30 cents on the dollar. Singer demands face value.
Singer is asking for $20 million for the ship or, predictably enough, double its worth. Argentine officials are refusing to pay. (h/t Dan Klein)
By the way, if you’re looking for a great joke about Jewish pirates. Check out this one.
Billionaire Buccaneer Seizes Argentinian Navy’s Flagship Over Unpaid Debts [Daily Mail]
Jewish Pirates [Livius]
Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean [Amazon]
Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.