Greek Shipping News Cuts
Week 42 - 2004

 

Live from the 6th Annual Greece Ship Finance Forum

---A record crowd of more than 200 shipowners and financiers filtered into the Athens Ledra Marriott today. The mood was charged with uncertainty about what the future holds for financiers. Here is a scary statistic provided by Petrofin. Greek owners are generating $1.5 billion of profit per month. At that rate, Greek owners will be able to pay down the entire $25 billion in debt that exist against Greek owned ships. The undertone of conversations involved how low owners will push down margins before lenders begin leaving the Greek market. This region has become heavily banked in recent years with local Greek banks jumping into the business to finance owners that are not on the famed "Top 100" list. Appetite for US capital markets deals is swelling with approximately 13 IPO being mulled over by Greek owners. TEN Ltd graciously hosted a lunch at which the company celebrated its 11th birthday.
Source: www.marinemoney.com, Freshly Minted online, 14 Oct 2004


Greek seafarers threaten industrial action
---Greek seafarers have warned they will embark on industrial action if they are not satisfied with the government's reaction to a series of demands. In a letter to Marine minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis October 12, the Panhellenic Seamens Federation (PNO) gave the minister until October 19 to reply to their demands.
The PNO said the issues raised in the letter to Kefaloyiannis are well-known and "can not be ignored any longer". They concern taxation, retirement compensation, the employment of retired seafarers and the establishment of an independent fund for unemployed seafarers.
The same issues dominated discussions PNO leaders had when they met with Prime minister Costas Karamanlis and Kefaloyiannis early October. Then Karamanlis told the PNO delegation, led by general secretary, John Halas, who also signed the latest letter to the Marine minister, that reducing taxation was a matter for the National Economy and Finance minister, George Alogoskoufis, hinting it was unlikely to happen. On the matter of a one-off retirement entitlement the PM saying there will be an increase, but "the level may not match" the wishes of the seafarers.
Kefaloyiannis had told the seafarers some of their demands are "already part of government [New Democracy] policy and will be materalised". On the controversial issue of retirees being employed, Kefaloyiannis said the government could only act with regard to Greek-flag ships.
The seafarers say they are tired of "words and want some concrete decisions".
Source: Newsfront, Issue nr. 38 (15 October 2004)


Greece and Cyprus discuss re-establishing sea link
---THE GOVERNMENT has set up a committee to look into the feasibility of establishing a sea link with Greece, Communications Minister Haris Thrassou said yesterday.
The minister said the committee was processing a specific proposal in co-operation with the government of Greece.
"In the (recent) meeting I had with my Greek counterpart Manolis Kefaloyiannis, we established the lack of a sea link between Greece and Cyprus, something, which many Greeks and Cypriots demand, and we agreed to look into the possibility of setting up a ship route between the two countries," Thrasou said.
Speaking after attending a House Communications Committee meeting, Thrassou noted that the details would be studied by a committee made up of officials from the two ministries.
The minister said that people wanting to travel to and from Greece, apart from flying, can only do so with cruise ships, Thrasou said.
But, it is understood that there are only cruises to the Greek islands and Greek authorities do not allow people to travel to the mainland if they are on an island cruise.
The direct link had been scrapped several years ago thus also depriving travellers of the chance to drive their car to Greece.
The establishment of a regular direct link is expected to bring costs down, the minister said.
He added that nothing had been decided yet, not even which port would be used.
"For the present time we just accepted the idea and will discuss the details," he said.
The minister said the Larnaca port should have some priority but he added that he did not wish to commit at this point.
The two sides have scheduled a meeting before the end of the year to discuss the proposal and other maritime issues concerning the two countries.
Source: Cyprus Mail, Cyprus - Oct 13, 2004, By George Psyllides


Lauritzen Kosan sells two units to Greece
--- Lauritzen Kosan Group has sold to LPG carriers to the Greek shipping company Stealth Maritime, which has decided to enter the LPG market.
This has been done by way of purchasing two units from Lauritzen Kosan and two units from another gas operator. The Lauritzen Kosan units are the "Fernando Clariana", built in 1991 at Gijon for the Lauritzen subsidiary Gasnaval, and for a period sailing under Danish flag, and the "Bente Kosan", which comes from the Exmar/Lauritzen Kosan joint-venture Maryse Shipping.
The "Bente Kosan" is one of twelve units bought from Far East Shipping in Tokyo earlier this year. The four units purchased are in the size range 3,500 cbm to 4,200 cbm. This is the first time for several years that Lauritzen Kosan has sold tonnage. The last time ships were sold from the fleet was in 2001. Stealth Maritime in Piraeus also has a ship sailing under the Danish flag in a bareboat arrangement with D/S "Norden". The vessel is the Aframax tanker "Nord Stealth". (12.10.04)
Source: www.shipgaz.com, 12 Oct 2004


Stelmar commences mailing of proxy materials in connection with pending merger
---ATHENS, Greece, Oct. 15 Stelmar Shipping Ltd. (NYSE: SJH - News) today announced that it has commenced mailing proxy materials relating to a special meeting of Stelmar shareholders to be held at InterContinental The Barclay New York, 111 East 48th Street, New York, New York on Tuesday, November 16, 2004 at 10:00 a.m. (EST) for the purpose of voting upon the approval and authorization of the previously announced merger agreement between Stelmar and affiliates of Fortress Investment Group LLC. Stelmar anticipates that the merger will become effective as promptly as practicable after the special meeting, subject to its approval by shareholders.
The Company will also furnish copies of the proxy materials to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission under cover of Form 6-K, which will be available for free on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's website at http://www.sec.gov. In addition, copies of the proxy materials will also be posted on the Company's website, http://www.stelmar.com, and may also be obtained for free on request to Stelmar Shipping Ltd., Status Center, 2A Areos Street, Vouliagmeni, GR-166 71 Athens, Greece, Attention: Olga Lambrianidou, Secretary.
For additional information or any questions regarding the special meeting of Stelmar shareholders, please call Innisfree M&A Incorporated, the proxy solicitation agent, at +1 (888) 750-5834 (toll-free from the U.S. and Canada) or +1 (646) 822-7410 (call collect from other locations). Banks and brokers may call collect at +1 (212) 750-5833.
About Stelmar Shipping Ltd.
Stelmar Shipping Ltd. is an international provider of petroleum products and crude oil transportation services. Headquartered in Athens, Greece, Stelmar operates one of the world's largest and most modern Handymax and Panamax tanker fleets with an average age of approximately six years. Stelmar's 40 vessel fleet consists of 24 Handymax, 13 Panamax and three Aframax tankers. The Company's fleet includes two leased Aframax, and nine leased Handymax vessels. One hundred percent of the fully owned fleet is double-hull. In addition, four of the leased vessels are double-hull and the balance are double-sided. The Company, through its maintenance of a modern fleet and commitment to safety, has earned an excellent reputation for providing transportation services to major oil companies, oil traders and state-owned oil companies.
About Fortress Investment Group LLC
Fortress Investment Group LLC is a global alternative investment and asset management firm founded in 1998 with approximately $10 billion in equity capital currently under management. With headquarters in New York, Fortress and its affiliates have offices in London, Rome, Frankfurt and Geneva. Forward-Looking Statements
This release contains forward-looking statements (as defined in Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended) concerning future events and the Company's operations, performance and financial conditions, including, in particular, statements regarding: TCE rates in the near term; time charter revenues; net operating days; tanker supply and demand; supply and demand for oil; expectations as to funding the Company's future capital requirements; future capital expenditures; the Company's growth strategy and measures to implement such strategy; environmental changes in regulation; cost savings and other benefits; the time charter and spot charter markets; our mix of time and spot charters; prospective earnings; utilization of our vessels; our insurance claims expectations and the expected completion and timing of the merger and other information relating to the merger. Words such as "expects," "intends," "plans," "believes," "anticipates," "estimates," and variations of such words and similar expressions are intended to identify forward-looking statements. Although the Company believes that the expectations reflected in such forward-looking statements are reasonable, no assurance can be given that such expectations will prove to have been correct. These statements involve known and unknown risks and are based upon a number of assumptions and estimates which are inherently subject to significant uncertainties and contingencies, many of which are beyond the control of the Company. Actual results may differ materially from those expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements. Factors that could cause actual results to differ materially include, but are not limited to: changes in production of or demand for oil and petroleum products, either generally or in particular regions; the cyclical nature of the tanker industry and its dependence on oil markets; the supply of tankers available to meet the demand for transportation of petroleum products; greater than anticipated levels of tanker newbuilding orders or less than anticipated rates of tanker scrapping; changes in trading patterns significantly impacting overall tanker tonnage requirements; competitive factors in the market in which the Company operates; risks associated with operations outside the United States; and other factors listed from time to time in the Company's filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The Company expressly disclaims any obligations or undertaking to release publicly any updates or revisions to any forward-looking statements contained herein to reflect any change in the Company's expectations with respect thereto or any change in events, conditions or circumstances on which any statement is based.
Source: Stelmar Shipping Ltd, Friday October 15, 2:03 pm ET


Navitrans in dispute over derivatives
---Greek bulker operator Navitrans Maritime Inc is freezing payments in the freight derivatives market.
The Greek handymax operator says it has been forced to "temporarily suspend freight-forward agreement (FFA) trading and settlements" because of a dispute with Norwegian clearing house NOS.
NOS boss Morten Erichsen says the claims are "false" and that it has initiated arbitration proceedings against the Greek operator to reclaim $8.5m for an alleged default earlier in the summer.
The move means that counterparts of Navitrans face an uncertain period as the bulker operator's problems spill over from the smaller cleared derivatives market into the wider FFA arena.
A statement from Navitrans says the dispute with NOS meant it had been "effectively prohibited from trading on the open market" since July.
It was thereby "deprived of the possibility of generating profits or improving the average of its existing positions", the company says.
"Since the default, NOS has done nothing to stop Navitrans business outside the cleared market," Erichsen said. "NOS has, however, requested Navitrans to settle their debt to NOS amounting to $8.5m."
The move by Navitrans is likely to have damaging repercussions to counterparts in the FFA market.
As long as Navitrans's problems were confined to the cleared market, any losses were limited and covered by the clearing house. However, Navitrans's decision to suspend settlements in the over-the-counter (OTC) market means any losses will be felt directly by the contractual parties.
Much will depend on the number of counterparties and size of contracts held by Navitrans but that remains difficult to assess because FFA contracts are principal-to-principal deals. Depending on the positions, the amount of money in the OTC market could be greater than that involved in the cleared market.
"We have taken so far a hit and they owe us $8.5m. We are chasing them through the right channels to get them to pay us," said Erichsen.
He adds that an arbitration request has been filed with the Oslo Chamber of Commerce.
Navitrans has appointed Hewett & Co of Greece as legal representatives.
The move overshadows an otherwise successful week for NOS during which it overcame a related hurdle left by losses from the Navitrans dispute.
Since the dispute with Navitrans, NOS has been negotiating with Norway's securities commission (Kredittilsynet) about what level of reserves are required.
As a result, its shareholders have agreed to beef up its capital by NOK 60m ($9m) in a special issue of shares.
"This is more about establishing confidence than satisfying requirements," said Erichsen.
NOS's biggest shareholders are Wilhelm Wilhelmsen-controlled Skips AS Tudor, Norwegian state-controlled bank DnB-NOR and Sweden's Nordea.
NOS has paid lawyers some NOK 2m ($300,000) to date chasing the Navitrans money, according to Norwegian daily Dagens Naeringsliv. Until it is recovered, however, the clearing house must keep regulators and customers comfortable by stuffing a bigger capital cushion.
Source: www.tradewinds.no, Ian Lewis Genoa, published: 15 October 2004


NOS, Oslo Clearinghouse, to Raise Cash After Default (Update1)
---NOS ASA, the only clearinghouse for shipping derivatives, will sell 60 million kroner ($9 million) in new shares to raise cash after a client defaulted, raising concern NOS may lack the financial strength to handle a boom in trading.
The Oslo-based company will sell the shares to its owners, Chief Executive Officer Morten Erichsen said. A second clearinghouse for shipping derivatives, used to protect against or speculate on freight rates, may start up next year, the Forward Freight Agreement Brokers' Association said last month.
``We are doing this to restore confidence,'' Erichsen said in a telephone interview. ``We had 110 million kroner in cash reserves before the default. We're now restoring that level.''
NOS ensures payments to traders of so-called Freight Forward Agreements, or FFAs, which are tied to transport costs of commodities such as oil and coal. The shipping-derivatives market may grow to $17 billion this year as freight rates surge to records, said the International Maritime Exchange AS, the Oslo- based operator of an online exchange.
Navitrans Maritime Inc., an Athens-based shipowner, on June 30 defaulted on $8.5 million in payments covered by NOS. Navitrans, which had been approved for trading on April 16, has since been suspended from using NOS or Imarex's online system.
``We are talking all necessary steps to recover the amount from the company, its owners and managers,'' Erichsen said. ``We have spent a great deal of money on legal fees.''
Navitrans officials weren't immediately available to comment, a company secretary said. DnBNOR Markets will manage NOS's share sale, to be completed next month, Erichsen said.
New Clearinghouse
The FFA brokers association, the Athens Stock Exchange, the New York Mercantile Exchange, LCH.Clearnet Ltd. and other groups are in talks after ``bigger market users'' asked for a larger clearinghouse, Andy Lucey, chairman of the brokers' group, said in an interview last month.
NOS, also known as the Norwegian Futures and Options Clearinghouse, clears contracts for the Oslo-based Nord Pool power exchange and on equity trades. Deutsche Bank AG joined last month. Other members include Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Shell Trading International Ltd. and A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S.
Derivatives are financial obligations whose value is derived from underlying assets such as debt and equity securities, commodities or currencies. Shipping companies, cargo owners and banks use freight derivatives to speculate or protect against swings in shipping rates that can cost them money.
Second-quarter sales from shipping derivatives at NOS jumped more than fourfold to 8.2 million kroner, the company said this week. Growth has been ``tremendous'' this year and October is set to be a record month, Erichsen said.
Dry-Bulk Risks
Most FFAs are traded over the counter, privately between buyers and sellers, without a third party to guarantee payments. Jinhui Shipping & Transportation Ltd., a Hong Kong owner of dry- bulk ships that carry coal and iron ore, booked second-quarter losses of $67.2 million in over-the-counter freight derivatives.
``The tanker market is extremely strong,'' Erichsen said. ``On the dry-bulk side, the OTC trades still dominate. But we hope to get the market players to see that clearing'' lowers risk.
Freight derivatives first traded about 20 years ago under the Baltic international freight futures exchange contract, or BIFFEX, on the London International Futures and Options Exchange. The contract was dropped two years ago as growth in the over-the- counter market damped trading.
Skips A/S Tudor, controlled by Norwegian shipowner Wilh. Wilhelmsen, is NOS's biggest shareholder with a 15 percent stake. DnBNOR ASA, Norway's largest lender, holds 14 percent and Nordea Bank AB, the biggest Nordic bank, has 12 percent. OMX AB, the largest Nordic exchange company, holds an 11 percent stake.
Source: http://quote.bloomberg.com, 13 Oct. 2004


Jones returns to his roots with Piraeus agency venture
--- JONATHAN Jones has formed an underwriting agency in Piraeus in the latest stage of a 30-year career in arranging insurance cover for hundreds of shipowners in pioneering ventures.
Mr Jones, who has been based in Piraeus for the last two years and is now a permanent resident, has started his company as an agent for a selection of insurance companies. He will be authorised agent of Ingosstrakh, which has been leading the Russian insurance market for more than 50 years and gained a reputation as a respected and innovative insurer, both in Russia and internationally.
It is expected Mr Jones will specialise in mainly hull business, but with some protection and indemnity lines available.
In establishing JLJ Marine, Mr Jones is returning to his roots as, principally, an underwriter and will build and expand on the account already established by Ingosstrakh.
Mr Jones earlier this year left his previous employer Topmar of Piraeus after a reported disagreement. Much of his previous career was spent underwriting hull at Lloyd's, where he launched a P&I facility that briefly challenged some of the long-established mutuals. The P&I portfolio was folded into independent British Marine before being disbanded, and Mr Jones went on to concentrate on work from Piraeus.
Mr Jones said: "I am, of course, pleased to return to the market and delighted to co-operate with Ingosstrakh which has a long and distinguished history in the marine market.
"Although, originally, the Ingosstrakh account was predominantly domestic in nature, in recent years there has been a desire to grow a more international account. Our new association also fits well with the increasing desire of the Greek shipowning community to have access to quality insurance cover in their own domestic market."
Alex Timofeev, deputy director of the marine division of Ingosstrakh said: "Jonathan has, over many years in the London market, established a strong reputation as a very professional underwriter who understands both the technical demands of the market as well as the problems of and demands on shipowners. He is very well known in the Greek shipowning fraternity and is well suited to attract to Ingosstrakh a high-grade Greek clientele."
Igor Krasnokutskiy, who has joined the new firm on the underwriting side, claims credit for introducing Ingosstrakh into Greece. He was at one time general manager of the commercial division of Far-Eastern Shipping Company.
JLJ Marine will place a strong emphasis on claims service, which will be supervised by Michael Tskitishvili, a ship's master who has worked in senior technical and claims management, having joined the Lloyd's syndicate where Mr Jones was underwriter in 1996, and more recently worked with British Marine.
Capt Tskitishvili has been delegate of the Republic of Georgia to the International Maritime Organization general Assembly. He is a member of the Nautical Institute, a member of the International Federation of Shipmasters' Associations, and recently obtained the IMO's International Ship and Port Facility Security Code certificate.
Average adjuster Paul Robson, who has lived and worked in Greece for more than 20 years, has joined the team. Well known in Greece and Turkey, Mr Robson was, until recently, a partner in Robson Butler and before that, joint managing director of Manley Hopkins, Greece.
In addition to business underwritten by Ingosstrakh, JLJ Marine will develop niche products backed by international underwriters and reinsurance companies, for small fleets and large yachts.
Source: www.lloydslist.com, James Brewer- Friday October 15 2004


IPO long shot pays off
---EVANGELOS Pistiolis' plan to list his tanker company on the Nasdaq exchange looked overly optimistic when it went public in July. Athens-based Top Tankers was just one of many Greek companies with fleets of comparable size and similar visions of growth. It also had a short track record, and its founder and owner, just 30, was a familiar name to few in the maritime industry.
Top also drew criticism that its seven-ship fleet was too old and that it should not have picked Cantor Fitzgerald, a firm inexperienced in shipping, as leading underwriter for its IPO. On the plus side, the company had been continually profitable since it was founded three and a half years ago and had in the pipeline the acquisition of 10 Suezmax and Handymax double-hull tankers built in 1991-2 by Sovcomflot.
Despite all the negative factors, including an inauspicious climate for IPOs, the Top Tankers offering was not only subscribed but also broke a few records. "We completed the most difficult and largest shipping IPO ever in record time," says president and CEO Pistiolis.
He explains that the IPO's proceeds exceeded by $2M the previous record of $144M set by Genmar and that he managed to put the deal together in 97 days, when the typical IPO process takes about six months. Pistiolis congratulates himself on having chosen Cantor Fitzgerald to underwrite the sale: "If I had gone to any of those big firms specialising in shipping deals, they would probably have not paid so much attention to my proposal, and things would have moved slowly."
Instead, he opted for a firm that was prepared to match his frenzied work rate and was keen to break into shipping.
"I am very satisfied with Cantor, their dedication to the job was admirable, our co-operation perfect, and the result speaks for itself," Pistiolis says.
He recognises that Cantor had a difficult task because the company was very hard to sell, compared with any established shipowner. The reason was that investors generally demand long and profitable histories before considering a company's IPO.
Top Tankers has seen its stock rise steadily since it started trading on 23 July. Shareholders who made the initial investment could already reap profits of 63%.
Part of the stock's ascent must be attributable to its attraction to retail investors. The company has a rare fixed dividend policy: irrespective of result, it pays $0.21a share every three months. At the same time, between August and September, Top took delivery of all 10 vessels from Sovkomflot and sold at the same time its oldest vessel as part of its aim to operate only double-hulls by the end of the year. It used the IPO proceeds, plus a loan from RBS, to finance the $251M en-bloc purchase from the Russians. The fleet is now made up of four Suezmax oil tankers, 10 Handymax product tankers and two Handysize tankers. The latter are the only single-hull vessels in the fleet.
Pistiolis says the company is monitoring the market for further acquisitions. The candidate vessels must fulfil one basic criterion: to be able to generate a good profit. "We are return driven in our purchases. The ship type and size come second as considerations," he says, adding that he might move to larger vessels if a Panamax or VLCC comes along that he can tie up with a profitable timecharter.
He ruled out going for newbuildings for the time being because he says a second-hand tanker today earns the same money as a new one and costs much less.
Pistiolis also prefers sister ships, in view of the advantages in management, operation and maintenance. Top operates eight sister ships. Pistiolis does not come from a shipping dynasty and is a self-made man. His first involvement in shipping, in 1992, was in the bulk carrier sector, and later in container ships. The reason? He realised that bank financing was easier for ships with a low pollution risk.
At the end of 1999, he switched to tankers, and his rise ever since has been meteoric. To succeed in this business, he says, it does not matter who you are as long as you master your subject, work hard and believe in what you do.
COMPANY PROFILE:
Full company name: Top Tankers Inc.
Headquarters: Athens, Greece
Founded: 2000
Listed: NASDAQ
Share price: $18.63 on 7 October (lowest $10 soon after started trading in July)
Latest financial results: 2Q04 net profits $5.7M v $0.35M of 2Q03
Fleet: 16 tankers (4 Suezmaxes, 10 Handymaxes and 2 Handysizes) aggregate: 1.14M dwt
Source: www.fairplay.co.uk, 14 Oct 2004


Nafto Trade Shipping in talks with Turkey's Selah Shipyard
Greek shipping company Nafto Trade Shipping in talks with Turkey's Selah Shipyard about building three multi purpose freighters of 17,000 dwt/800 TEU. They would be delivered by the end of 2005. Contact: Selah Shipyard, Ozel Sektor, Tersaneleri Bolgesi Tersaneler Cad No 4, Tuzla 81160, Istanbul, Turkey. Tel. ++90 212 395 0752. Fax. ++90 212 395 4503. Internet www.selahshipyard.com Email selah@superonline.com Contact: Nafto Trade Shipping & Commercial SA, 23, Psaron Street, 185 46 Piraeus, Greece. Tel. ++30 210 406 2000. Fax. ++30 210 406 2100. Email naftotrade@softway.gr
Source: News Ships, 14 Oct 2004


Qatar signs deal for charter of LNG carriers
DOHA: The gas-rich Gulf state of Qatar on Monday signed an agreement for the long-term charter of four liquefied natural gas (LNG) carriers to be built in a shipyard in South Korea.
"Ras Laffan Liquefied Natural Gas Company Limited II (RasGas II) has signed time charter agreements with Maran Gas Maritime for the long-term charter of four LNG vessels to be built at Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering Co. Korea," a statement said without giving the value of the deal.
Maran Gas Maritime is the gas division of the Angelicoussis Greek maritime group.
Under the deal's terms, RasGas II will be able to assume up to 30 percent equity ownership in each of the new LNG vessels, the statement said.
The ships will be delivered to RasGas between November 2005 and June 2008 and will have an LNG cargo capacity of 145,700 cubic meters.
RasGas will charter the vessels for a period of 20 years to deliver LNG from Ras Laffan Industrial City to its customers, particularly in Europe, the statement said.
RasGas is 63 percent owned by Qatar Petroleum, 25 percent by energy giant ExxonMobile and the remainder by Japanese and South Korean firms.
Source: Daily Star, Lebanon - Oct 12, 2004 , By Agence France Presse (AFP)


Greece's National Bank staff to strike on Nov. 1
---Employees at National Bank, Greece's largest by assets, will go on strike for a day on Nov. 1, demanding that management replace all 1,500 workers who will leave the bank next month, their union said.
Workers' representatives on Thursday urged management to hire an equal number of people to replace those leaving under a voluntary redundancy scheme, but managers said they would hire only up to 450 persons, the employees' union said in a statement.
Last week, National Bank said that around 1,500 employees had accepted the redundancies, its largest such scheme to date, which aims to cut costs and bring in new people.
It had estimated annual payroll savings of 70 million euros ($87 million) from the redundancies.
Other major banks are also targeting job cuts to lower costs and improve efficiency.
The union warned the bank that the one-day strike could herald further industrial action.
Source: www.reuters.co.uk, ATHENS, Oct 14