Ansheng Shipping is still paying bareboat charter hire on time and in full, despite the legal contro­versy surrounding parent group Antong Holdings, Chinese financial sources say.

Market observers said the containership owner’s troubles and those of its main shareholders have given a clear advantage to ­rival private carrier Zhonggu Shipping in the domestic liner trade.

Last week, Antong disclosed a new set of lawsuits against Antong-­related entities and the company’s major shareholders, brothers Guo Dongze and Guo Dongsheng, with claims in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Antong acknowledged through stock-exchange filings in May that its company bank accounts had been frozen in response to legal action by shipbuilder Fujian Southeast Shipbuilding. That action came after controlling shareholders had made unauthorised use of company funds and ­issued unauthorised guarantees.

Shanghai Stock Exchange-listed Antong includes Ansheng Shipping and Antong Logistics, private entities controlled by the Guo brothers’ ­investment vehicle Renjian until a reverse stock listing in 2016. ­Antong shares have lost more than half of their value since mid-May, when unauthorised activity became known through a warning from Chinese securities regulators.

Ansheng Shipping's Chinese-flag containership Bao An Cheng 88 on the Huangpu River in Shanghai Photo: Bob Rust

The revelations put a stop to a planned CNY 3.3bn ($476m) private stock placement and to a feedership newbuilding programme slated for three Chinese shipyards.

However, local financial leasing sources, including some of those lessors, said they have seen no hire payment problems so far.

“The loan-to-value ratio is low and Antong is still paying its bareboat hire on time,” one lessor said.

Guo Dongsheng Photo: Antong Holdings

Companies that finance Ansheng Shipping vessels are said to include Avic International, Minsheng Financial Leasing, Cinda ­Financial Leasing and Great Wall Financial Leasing.

Antong chief financial officer Li Lianghai and company press representatives had not responded to telephone and email enquiries ­before TradeWinds went to press.

Ansheng and Zhonggu have pursued a strategy of rapid expansion over recent years, by constructing smaller newbuildings and acquiring larger secondhand ships from international owners.

Starting in late 2016 after its ­reverse initial public offering, ­Ansheng imported 10 containerships into the Chinese flag, nine of them panamaxes. At the time of the IPO, Chinese analysts calculated that Zhonggu and Ansheng had about 14% of the domestic market each, behind the 48% share of state-owned China Cosco Shipping.

Shipping databases put Ansheng’s fleet at 35 ships of up to 4,700 teu each, but small boxships that never had an IMO number are thought to double that figure.