New Times bulker berths tempt rival heavyweight shipowners

John Fredriksen and his former business partner Tor Olav Troim are eyeing berths at the same Chinese shipyard

Two competing former business partners — John Fredriksen and Tor Olav Troim — are being linked to upcoming large bulker orders at a Chinese shipyard.

A new company named 2020 Bulkers, a vehicle backed by international and Norwegian institutional investors, is understood to have signed a letter of intent (LOI) for two firm newcastlemax bulker newbuildings at New Times Shipbuilding. The deal includes a string of optional berths.

Widespread market chatter this week has linked the interests behind this new venture to Troim.

This has led to speculation that Fredriksen’s former business partner is making a move into bulkers.

The Tier II vessels are said to be priced at about $44.5m each. The 208,000-dwt bulkers will be built to a new design by the Marine Design & Research Institute of China and are slated for delivery during the first half of 2020.

Separately, Fredriksen is also said to be in talks with Jiangsu-based New Times Shipbuilding over a similar number of bulker berths.

Fredriksen's private interests are believed to have penciled in two firm newcastlemax bulkers with options on a further pair of vessels. The deal also includes an option to swap these to capesize berths at a later date.

No contract has been signed yet but board approval has been given on the project.

Sources close to Fredriksen confirm talks on the vessels have occurred, but indicate no firm decisions have been taken and other yards are in the frame.

Newbuilding players tell this paper that LOIs for the bulker newbuildings were signed by both outfits on the same day, sparking excited market talk that the two former business partners, who now run rival shipping empires, have been locked in negotiations with the same shipyard.

Fredriksen has been a key customer for New Times and his listed Golden Ocean Group still has bulker tonnage under construction at the yard.

Troim has already built jack-up rig company Borr Drilling through his holding company Magni Partners and shipping market observers say he could be looking to make parallel moves into the bulker sector.

One source says Troim and Fredriksen, who dramatically parted company in 2014, appear to be trying to rebuild their business empires with assets that mirror each other’s interests.