Croatia OKs shipyard sales

ZAGREB (Reuters) – The Croatian government approved yesterday restructuring plans for its indebted shipyards, in the first step toward meeting a key requirement for Zagreb’s European Union membership bid. Under the plans, four of the six loss-making docks will be offered for sale. Tenders for the privatization will be launched in September and the sale completed by the end of next March, state radio reported after a government session. Shipyard overhaul is a major requirement for Zagreb to keep its EU accession talks on schedule and wrap them up by November 2009, which would see Croatia joining in 2010 or 2011. It is also one of the most sensitive social issues in the talks, as the industry – formerly a source of national pride and the country’s main exporter – employs tens of thousands of people on the Adriatic coast. «The government’s firm stand is to try to save all the jobs,» Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said. The two biggest shipyards, 3. Maj in the northern Adriatic and Brodosplit of Split, will not be up for sale anytime soon. First in line for the sale are Uljanik and Kraljevica in the northern Adriatic and Brodotrogir and a part of Brodosplit dock in the southern Adriatic. Economy Minister Damir Polancec said Croatia will seek strategic partners for all shipyards, but also to preserve 25 percent of stock for employees. In the last five years the shipyards have accumulated losses worth some 8.4 billion kuna ($1.8 billion). According to preliminary plans, the docks have asked for some 1.2 billion euros ($1.87 billion) in state aid and up to seven years to meet EU standards.