Tough market sees Ofer throttle up tonnage switch to Singapore

Around 50 ships are being moved from London to the Lion City as part of a restructuring intended to balance the strengths of Zodiac Maritime Agencies and Tanker Pacific and in anticipation of Eyal and Idan Ofer and their families leading their own shipping groups.

Recent tanker disposals in the face of poor markets have triggered the Ofer group to accelerate plans to move around 50 ships of various types to Singapore from its larger shipping operation in London.

London’s Zodiac Maritime Agencies will this year move the management of vessels including bulkers, containerships and chemical tankers to Singapore-based Tanker Pacific, it is understood.

The transfers will leave the two sides of Sammy Ofer Group Monaco more equally balanced, with mixed fleets of around 100 vessels each. It will also enable a smooth family succession of the two firms’ ownership.

The restructuring is intended to balance the two companies’ strengths so that they can operate independently in time, and pave the way for Sammy Ofer’s two sons, Eyal, 61, and Idan, 57, and their families to lead their own shipping groups.

Eyal and Idan are joint heads of Sammy Ofer Group Monaco, which controls both Zodiac and Tanker Pacific. Eyal is chairman of Zodiac and his son, Daniel, is its managing director, while Idan was previously chairman of Tanker Pacific. Sammy Ofer died in June 2011.

The group aims to complete the shift while the current senior group management is still in place.

The Singapore firm’s fleet has fallen sharply in size to about 40 vessels, including 10 on order, due to weak tanker markets.

Tanker Pacific has shed more than 20 ships in the past three years, and five years ago listed a fleet of about 100 vessels on its website.

Bolstering the Singapore operation will diversify that operation’s management skills over a range of vessel types, and show closeness to the Asian market’s growing significance.

Zodiac, which currently manages a mixed fleet of some 150 ships, will over time maintain its size and strength as vessels transferred out are replaced by up to another 50 newbuildings and secondhand vessels acquired from distressed owners while prices remain low, it is believed.

It reflects Ofer’s continued long-term commitment to London, where it is arguably the biggest owner-operator.

New recruits likely

Tanker Pacific is expected to seek to recruit new staff as it rebuilds its fleet and expands its scope of operations, while management levels will be maintained at Zodiac. Some mid-level personnel could transfer from Zodiac to Tanker Pacific.

It is unclear how the changes will affect either flagging or financing of vessels, although it is believed those are not among the main drivers for the switch.

In 2010, Tanker Pacific closed a Geneva office in order to concentrate on its European operations in London.

Tanker Pacific is run by managing director Steve Kunzer, who was appointed in July 2008 after previously being Zodiac‘s chief representative in Shanghai. He joined the group in 2002 when it took over P&O Bulk.