A two-year battle for Swedish tanker company ICB Shipping ended
Sept. 23 in victory for Norway
's Frontline (FRO)
- but only after four of 12 ICB tankers are sold to a new group set up by key ICB players.
An agreement between Frontline, ICB and ICB's main shareholder, Greek shipowner John Angelicoussis
, values ICB at about $600 million and ends a stalemate over ownership involving several legal wrangles.
Bermuda-registered Frontline launched a hostile takeover bid for ICB in September 1997 with the aim of creating one of the world's largest quoted tanker companies, part of the consolidation emerging in the highly fragmented tanker industry.
"We feel that what we have agreed to is a creative solution although
it does mean that Frontline has achieved its aim," ICB chairman Clarence Dybeck said
. "It is with regret I note that through this agreement Sweden loses another shipping company."
Under the agreement, Frontline, headed by shipping magnate John Fredriksen
, is buying shares from ICB board members and the Angelicoussis family to lift its stake to 90 percent of share capital from about 70 percent and to 93 percent of votes. It paid 112 crowns for ICB A-series shares and 72.58 crowns for B-series shares.
The absorption of ICB will make Frontline one of the world's biggest tanker groups with a fleet of 37 Suezmax and VLCC tankers. "By adding another six Suezmax tankers to the existing Frontline fleet of 19 we have increased our market position in what we see as the most interesting segment of the tanker market," Fredriksen said.
Frontline is expected to bid for the rest of ICB's shares within the next six months.
ICB Players Set Up New Company
In connection with the deal, ICB's board has decided to sell four VLCC ships - Irian, Ambon, Flores and Mindoro - to a newly established company, ACOL Tankers Ltd
, for $189 million, a price based on valuations by five independent shipbrokers.
All four ships are currently on the spot market.
ACOL will also acquire ICB's 30 percent shareholding in Stockholm Chartering at book value.
ACOL's main shareholder will be the Angelicoussis family, but several ICB board members, including Dybeck, will also participate.
"We aim to expand this company, which will be registered in the Cayman Islands, and then go public, maybe in a couple of years," Dybeck said.
The deal ending the battle for ICB is expected to be finalized by September 27 and all legal actions against ICB and ICB board members are to be terminated.
Increased Oil Production Is Real Solution
Frontline's takeover of ICB will strengthen its position in the tanker sector, company officials said, but only an increase in oil production from OPEC countries can return the company's revenues to a "decent" level.
"I think nothing other than a rise in OPEC crude production will lead to a rise in tanker markets," managing director Tor Olav Troeim said
. "With the production figures we see today, there will be a shortage from the first quarter 2000, so there are grounds to believe that production will increase," he said.
OPEC agreed on Wednesday to maintain output curbs of about 4.3 million barrels per day until at least March. In addition, non-OPEC countries have reduced supply to the market this year by approximately 800,000 bpd. The cuts were an effort by major producers to prop up oil prices, which plunged last year to historic lows below $10 per barrel.
The takeover of ICB resulted in an increase of Frontline's fleet by eight vessels - six Suezmax size and two VLCCs. One of the eight is under time charter, while the rest are in the spot market. "I hope that we will get more market power from these vessels, and that we will be able to get some contracts because we are simply as big as we are," Troeim said, adding that the company saw good possibilities in the Suezmax segment.
Following the ICB deal, Frontline now has 25 Suezmax vessels and 12 VLCCs built after 1990. It also has a 50 percent stake in a floating, production, storage and offshore loading vessel.