Norwegian tanker mogul Tom Steckmest bought
out bondholders with whom he was due to clash in the New York courts over control of a fleet of six petroleum product tankers. "The existing bonds have been amicably cancelled and all disputes settled," Steckmest said. Shipping sources said he had paid $135 million to cancel the bonds in addition to $8 million he paid last year for equity in the ship-owning company First International
. The bondholders lent most of the $257 million to build the fleet of tankers, which have worked all their lives on long-term charters to oil major Shell. Both parties asked the courts in April to decide which of them controlled the future employment of the six vessels, after the bondholders refused to accept a new contract Steckmest had negotiated with Shell.
The move sinks plans by New York-listed Stelmar to buy the fleet. The deal with Stelmar, which is owned by Easyjet chief Stelios Haji-Ioannou, was originally lined up last summer, and as recently as April the company reiterated its interest in the ships. Steckmest said he planned to integrate the six tankers into his Viken Shipping Group. The acquisition of the bondholders' stake in the ships will be financed by Nedship Bank and NIB Capital Bank. - (Reuters)