World Wide Shipping Group Eyes Norwegian Gas Shipping Giant Bergesen

Speculation is growing in Europe that Helmut Sohmen, the Chairman of the Hong Kong based oil tanker operator, World Wide Shipping group, may be trying to buy the Norwegian gas shipping giant, Bergesen. In April, Sohmen's family firm, Tauro Company, announced it had acquired 6.02 million shares, or 10.11 per cent, of Oslo-based Bergesen.

In a statement then, Sohmen said: “Bergesen is a well managed and successful company and leads in the gas carrier business in which we have so far not taken a position. “It is a very suitable investment both in terms of diversification and for long term co-operation.” Tauro had built up its holding over two years by acquiring shares through the HSBC Investment Bank.

The Bergesen deal would be the second investment in a Scandinavian shipping company to be made by Sohmen in the past three years.

In 2000, he bought N&T Argonaut, the Swedish tanker company, after taking a controlling stake in Nordstrom & Thulin in 1996. Nordstrom & Thulin later merged with Argonaut.

However, some analysts said that, if Sohmen's past moves were an indicator, the process could take several years. An analyst in Oslo said he expected Sohmen to raise his stake gradually and work with Bergesen's biggest shareholders to buy the company. “But these are patient people on both sides of the table, so don't expect anything to happen soon,” he said.

Bergesen's biggest shareholder is Petter Sundt with 15.15 per cent while Morten Sig Bergesen, with 7.84 per cent, comes third. “Sohmen has continued to buy shares after flagging his 10 per cent interest in April,” the analyst said.

Sohmen acquired N&T Argonaut by first acquiring a stake, then raising it and joining the board and finally striking a deal to buy the biggest shareholders out.

Bergesen, the world's largest owner and operator of gas carriers, operates a fleet of 113 ships, including 84 gas carriers totalling 4.67 million cubic metres, 17 crude oil tankers totalling 5.3 million deadweight tonnes, eight large dry bulk cargo ships and four floating production and storage vessels.

The company expects more than half its earnings to come from its rapidly-expanding liquefied natural gas and offshore divisions by 2006, according to finance director Garup Meidell.

World-Wide operates a fleet of 30 crude oil and petroleum tankers, but has yet to succeed in breaking into the gas sector.


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