Hong Kong group takes over Bergesen

World Nordic ApS, a special purpose company backed by the Sohmen family of Hong Kong, made a cash offer Monday for all the shares of longtime Oslo shipowning company Bergesen ASA.

World Nordic ApS, a special purpose company backed by the Sohmen family of Hong Kong, made a cash offer Monday for all the shares of longtime Oslo shipowning company Bergesen ASA. World Nordic could already claim control of 51.5 percent of Bergesen by mid-morning.

The deal caps months of apparently friendly share acquisitions engineered by Helmut Sohmen, the Austrian-born businessman who married into the Chinese family who controls World-Wide Shipping of Hong Kong.

World-Wide was founded by the late Sir YK Pao, Sohmen's father-in-law, in 1955 and grew to become one of the largest shipping empires in the world. Sohmen has been chairman of World-Wide since 1986.

Bergesen, meanwhile, has long been considered Norway's most prestigious shipowning company. Its roots go back generations, and many a young broker and shipping trainee aspired to work there.

Its takeover thus marks the end of an era, of sorts, for Norwegian shipping, which has seen many of its locally owned and managed companies fall into foreign hands in recent years. While Bergesen family members themselves had earlier quarreled over company control, the firm has been steadfastly run for more than two decades by cousins Morten Bergesen and Petter Sundt.

Now they're selling out to Sohmen as well, who has offered NOK 180 per A share, with NOK 173 in cash plus a proposed dividend of NOK 7. The offer represents a premium of nearly 30 percent over Friday's close.

Sohmen's World Nordic also is offering NOK 155 for Bergesen's non-voting B shares, paying NOK 148 in cash plus the NOK 7 dividend.

Bergesen's and Sundt's stakes amount to well over 16 million A shares alone, meaning they stand to get nearly NOK 3 billion (USD 426 million) for their stock.

Bergesen and World Nordic called the deal "a logical step towards the ongoing consolidation" that is going on in the shipping industry. A combination of Bergesen's and World-Wide Shipping's fleets are expected to yield economies of scale.

World Nordic said it intended to maintain operational headquarters in Oslo, but there's little doubt that all major decision-making power will move to Hong Kong. World Nordic said, however, that the company will retain Bergesen's management team and a separate Board of Directors to continue to manage the Bergesen fleet.