Scorpio reveals offshore ambitions following anchor handler debut

Below-the-radar beginnings in West African crew boat market could grow into a third public company

Emanuele Lauro’s Scorpio Group has broken into the anchor handler market as part of a project targeting the broader offshore support vessel (OSV) sector.

Scorpio Offshore has swooped for two anchor handling tug supply vessels formerly in the hands of Sanko Steamship to add to its previously unreported moves in the crew boat market.

While the company is presently privately owned and financed, it is likely to open up to outside investors in future, potentially following siblings Scorpio Tankers and Scorpio Bulkers to the public markets.

Lauro, chief executive of Scorpio Group, confirmed the acquisition of the 12,000-bhp Sanko Brilliance (renamed Soi Brilliance) and Sanko Baron (renamed Soi Baron, both built 2009) when contacted by TradeWinds this week.

He says Scorpio began looking at the offshore market in 2015 “as values and opportunities were such that I don’t think we could ignore the space”.

“We started with two crew boats and now we have eight,” he said. “We have been slowly building up the position. Over the summer, this opportunity came to take over these two anchor handlers and we decided we would start with some more substantial assets.”

Both of the anchor handlers, which were delivered in the past week, are working, one on a longer-term deal, the other in shorter-term employment.

All 10 of Scorpio Offshore’s vessels are operating in Congo and Angola, with the company opting to establish a foothold in the West African market, where it has existing customer relationships, before widening its geographical scope.

“We are definitely looking at building a position,” Lauro said. “Once we reach the critical mass necessary, we will be looking at opening up to either going public, or to capital providers and other avenues.

“For the time being, we are keeping it private. We don’t feel we have the critical mass necessary to attract institutional investors, yet.”

Scorpio Offshore’s growth will take a different path to that of Scorpio Tankers — which went public with three ships in 2010 and now has more than 100 — and Scorpio Bulkers, which has built a fleet of 52 vessels since its launch in 2013.

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“We are not going to go out and order assets,” Lauro said of Scorpio Offshore, noting a potential fleet size for the company has not been specified.

While its present focus is exclusively in West Africa, the company has looked at opportunities in global offshore hotspots, including the North Sea, South East Asia, Brazil and the Middle East.

"You have to start [in one place], consolidate and then look at another market and get into it with some conviction,” the shipowner said, noting Scorpio Offshore is open to investing in assets across “the OSV space as a whole”.

Moving into new areas is familiar territory for Lauro and Scorpio. Products tanker owner Scorpio Tankers made good money from brief forays into the VLCC and very large gas carrier sectors.

Lauro and his brother Filippo also contracted, but have since divested, a series of 20,000-teu containerships. This year, Scorpio has privately made its debut in the car carrier market, as TradeWinds reported in July.

“I think and hope it [Scorpio Offshore] will be a long-term project,” Lauro said.

“I’m not saying that if the market skyrockets, the oil price goes through $80 per barrel and the two anchor handlers we just purchased double in value, we are not going to sell them. You have to be realistic.”