Friendly end to shipyard suit?

The German shipyard HDW, owners of Hellenic Shipyards, Greece’s largest shipbuilding company located at Skaramangas, west of Athens, announced yesterday they were willing to drop a suit lodged on Wednesday against the previous owners, if a friendly settlement could be reached. Board Chairman Helmut Burmester told a press conference that shareholders were seeking «an agreement through negotiations.» A day earlier, the shipyard owners had sued the former owners in order to avoid paying over 150 million euros as penalty for late deliveries of ships and rolling stock to Strintzis Lines and Hellenic Railways (OSE) respectively, claiming they had not been informed of the contracts and their stipulations during negotiations two years ago over the purchase of the company. Burmester said yesterday that the owners had gone to the courts for purely legal reasons, since the shareholders’ right to seek compensation arising from the sales contracts was to expire on June 1, 2004. Formally, the suit was against Piraeus Bank which, since the shipyard’s sale in 2002, has taken over formerly state-owned ETBA Bank, Hellenic Shipyards’ previous owner. In reality, the suit targeted the State. Burmester claimed that ETBA had given guarantees that the contracts would be fulfilled, and that there had been guarantees regarding the rolling stock for Hellenic Railways from former Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis and former Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos. Sources at Piraeus Bank reiterated yesterday that the issue was of «no concern» to it and that Burmester’s reference to «contractual obligations» were due to «complete ignorance of the terms of the contract.»