Stelmar To Resume Discussions With First International

Friday, April 06, 2001
Tanker operator Stelmar Shipping said it was ready to revive talks with Bermuda-based First International to buy six petroleum tankers once the latter is free of an ownership dispute. "Yes, we're there to talk again, and would be interested in talking again for sure," a top Stelmar official said.

Stelmar and First International reached a $140 million deal for the ships last year but it fell through in October when First International became embroiled in a bitter legal dispute with a minor lender.

The tanker fleet has since become ensnared in a fresh dispute, this time between First International and bondholders, which provided most of the $257 million to build the fleet. Stelmar listed in New York in February, with the purpose of raising funds to buy 10 products tankers from Osprey Maritime; a deal with First International would swell the fleet to 28.

"It's no secret that Stelmar's in the business of growing its product tanker fleet, and assets like that are not always on the market," the official said. "We're going to have to start again, because we're a different company. We've moved on since then (the first deal)."

Both First International and investment fund bond holders have asked a New York court to decide in coming weeks which of them controls the future employment of the six tankers.

Sources close to the bond holders said that if the court ruled in their favor, it would cancel a charter that First International had lined up with oil major Shell and try to sell the ships, possibly to Stelmar.

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