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Nel Lines Acquires New Vessels and Merges with C-Link

As we go to press, shareholders of Nel-Lesvos Maritime are being asked to back a 23-million capital increase that will be used in part to acquire five used vessels. Two of the vessels are passenger ferries with Cypriot flags and three are ro-ro vessels under the Greek flag.

This follows Nel’s recent announcement to merge the company with C-Link Ferries, owned by Apostolos Ventouris, who is also Nel’s chief executive officer. Once the merger is finalized, Nel’s five ships (10 with the five vessels it wishes to acquire) join with the six operated by C-Link, for a total fleet of 16 ships.

And according to press reports, another two prominent ferry operators, George Ventouris and Costas Agapitos, are also expected to participate in the merged ferry line, with cash and another seven ships, plus taking on leading roles in the management, Mr. Ventouris in operations and Mr. Agapitos on the commercial side.

Meanwhile, Nel is pushing ahead with a claim filed in France last August for 89.7 million euros with respect to engine problems suffered on three fast ferries built in France and delivered in 2000 and 2001, including the ship now being retooled.

Compensation is being sought for damage suffered to the company’s reputation with its customers, associates and shareholders as two of its three new ferries were out of action for the whole of the summer season. Its ferry vessel Aeolos Kenteris stopped operating last September.

If all goes according to plan, and the mergers are realized, the new Nel Line also will own 9 percent of Hellenic Seaways. Minoan Lines owns 33.6 percent of Hellenic shares, and shipowner Panos Laskaridis, the vice president of Hellenic, now controls 17.6 percent of the line after his recent purchase of the 12.32 stake in Hellenic owned by Attica Holdings.

The Laskaridis family was an original backer of Minoan Flying Dolphins, which subsequently became Hellas Flying Dolphins. MFD grew into a fleet of some 73 vessels as a result of the consolidation of some 20 ferry companies in 1998/99.

The Laskaridis brothers, Thanassis and Panos, are large independent reefer ship operators, controlling some 100 ships. The family also owns shipyards in the Canary Islands and North Spain, and is the exclusive supplier of oil to the Falkland Islands and a major supplier of bunkers and fuel in East Africa and in the Bering Sea. The family is also a big shareholder in Aegean Airlines and has interests in hotels in Greece – the Grande Bretagne, Mount Parnes, Hyatt Regency – and abroad.

Professionals in the market assume that the new merger is in anticipation of the long overdue deregulation of the protected Greek passenger shipping market. Greece has won extensions to an old policy of allowing only Greek-flagged ships to operate out of Piraeus.

Last month, Merchant Marine Minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis was expected to announce the freeing of ticket prices on certain routes and the lifting of the 30-year-age limit on ferries operating in the domestic network, in a bid to pacify the court. Ferry owners are still waiting.

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