May 27 - Finally, the speculation is over with this week's confirmation that the principal shareholder of the Beluga Group Holding Company, Oaktree Capital Management, has established a new, and totally independent shipping company.
Klaus Karl Becker, media spokesman for the Beluga Group, stressed that the new company, Hansa Heavy Lift, whilst wholly-owned by Oaktree Capital Management, is completely separate from the Beluga Group.
Becker stated that Hansa Heavy Lift would commence operations on June 1 with an initial fleet of 17 multipurpose vessels and around 70 staff newly contracted from Beluga.
HLPFI understands that nine of these ships are under the control of Oaktree and that Edgar Groenda, the administrator of those Beluga subsidiaries, which have filed for insolvency, will also sell shareholdings in another seven ships, which form part of the insolvency assets of Beluga Shipping and Beluga Chartering to HHL.
Becker confirmed that the HHL fleet should increase to around 23 ships by early 2012 via the delivery of newbuildings currently under construction.
Roger Iliffe, a senior VP of Oaktree, has been named as interim CEO at HHL and HLPFI understands that a new CEO will be recruited by the end of the year.
So what are the market prospects for the new company? Iliffe is reported to have said that despite great disruption to operations in recent months, Oaktree still expects success in its investment in Beluga's assets: "Today the market is not so good. However, we believe the situation will improve in the second half of 2012. We're pursuing a long-term strategy of 7-10 years."
The question is whether Oaktree and HHL can succeed in regaining the lost confidence in the industry and among customers. Judging by comments on the floor of last week's Breakbulk Europe conference there is a good deal of scepticism although the international financial investor is making extremely optimistic noises about the new company.
And what is left of the Beluga Group? Well, not a great deal it would seem. The Beluga Group Holding Company appears to still exist but it remains to be seen what will happen to the Holding Company's main remaining subsidiary -Beluga Offshore Ltd - which has a 50 percent stake in the joint venture, Beluga Hochtief Offshore (BHO). Will Oaktree seek to dispose of its shares?
As we state in our latest issue - May/June - there are many lessons to be learned from this particular episode. Much water will pass under the Weser's many bridges before the final outcome is clear. Continue to watch this space.