Offers of partnerships or mergers among shippers being made behind the scenes

After almost six years of relative calm, something is moving again in the passenger shipping sector, even if it is behind the scenes. Shipping circles maintain that openings have been made to rival firms about a possible partnership or for a purchase of part of their fleet. Officially, no passenger shipper will admit that this sort of activity exists. Privately, they concede that «the mill has started working again» since every firm is aware of the imminent challenges posed by deregulation and, of course, want to survive even through a partnership, or a merger. Minoan Lines showed its interest first, with chairman Costas Klironomos, a former Socialist Eurodeputy, attending the annual general meeting of fellow Cretan company ANEK. Klironomos proposed that the Hania-based firm enter into a partnership with his Iraklion-based firm, if the Competition Commission approves. He also said that his sole motive was the shared concern over successfully withstanding increasing competition. According to sources, ANEK’s management did not offer an answer to Klironomos’s proposal. Instead, it announced its investment program, which provides for the acquisition of two new ferries which will ply the Piraeus-Hania route. There, ANEK faces stiff competition from Blue Star Ferries, and the newcomer appears to be getting the upper hand. According to the same sources, there were talks concerning a possible partnership among Sea Containers, Minoan Lines and Hellas Flying Dolphins (HFD). It was said that Minoan Lines, the main shareholder in HFD with a 32 percent share, had received a proposal by a foreign firm to sell their holdings at 2.5 euros per share. For the moment, nothing has been announced: it is said that Minoan Lines is bargaining hard for a higher price. In any case, the HFD annual general meeting, due to take place last week, was postponed after a proposal by a shareholder representing the 5 percent of HFD shares held by shipowner Costas Agapitos. The postponed AGM will take place on June 17, just before Minoan Lines’s AGM, on June 20. According to other sources, Blue Star Ferries has shown interest in cooperating with HFD’s fast ferries (the four Highspeed ferries). Blue Star, with five brand-new, fast ferries, is rapidly becoming the leader in the Aegean in this category. What is certain is that HFD has many suitors and rival companies or alliances see it as a decisive acquisition on the way to dominating the Aegean Sea market. «In the future, we may see only two shipping groups competing in the Aegean; this is dictated by the companies’ need to survive,» a reliable source from the shipping sector told Kathimerini. «I dare predict that, in the future, there will be just one big group active in passenger shipping, with two or three subsidiaries specializing in different kinds of ships,» the source added. ANEK is also making moves to clarify its relationship with companies in which it is the main shareholder. It appears willing to disentangle itself from DANE. ANEK Managing Director Yiannis Vardinoyiannis had said in the past that he was waiting for a willing investor to make an offer for DANE.