Belgian bulker owner and operator Conti-Lines Group aims to focus more on its core operations by selling its port agency Kennedy Hunter to Inchcape Shipping Services Holdings.

Major port agency group Inchcape said the acquisition of Antwerp-based Kennedy Hunter will deliver its strategic ambition to grow in the northern European market.

The purchase will greatly increase Inchcape’s coverage and expertise in Belgium, with particular focus on dry bulk, car carrier and ro-ro handling as well as cargo brokerage, it added.

Jean-Frederic Brion, chief executive of Conti-Lines, formerly known as Conti7, said the company, which operates a fleet of 25 to 35 chartered and owned ships at any given time, would continue to entrust its agency activities in Belgian ports to Kennedy Hunter.

“Over the last years, the Conti-Lines Group has progressively evolved into the direction of shipowner and ship’s operator activities,” he said, with those becoming its core business.

“Therefore, the decision was taken to transfer the ownership of the agency set-up Kennedy Hunter from the Conti-Lines Group to Inchcape.”

Inchcape is one of the largest and oldest maritime service providers in the world, with more than 2,800 staff in 240 offices in 60 countries.

It said its Inchcape Belgium unit already provides a diverse range of services, including port agency, husbandry, crew logistics services, ship chandelling, bunker fuel supply arrangement, liner agency, logistics services to oil and gas, construction, dredging, cable-laying, cruise tourism and other sectors.

Inchcape CEO Frank Olsen said adding Kennedy Hunter would allow it to offer even better services to its customers in Belgium.

“This is our first acquisition under the ownership of Epiris and it demonstrates our intention and ability to drive positive consolidation within the port agency industry,” he added.

UK investment fund Epiris acquired Inchcape in April from Dubai investment company Istithmar, which had bought it in 2006.

Conti-Lines is a subsidiary of the Conti7 Maritime Holding Group, which has established parcel services originating from the Baltic, European Continent, Mediterranean, Black Sea, Brazil and Far East to the Americas, Africa and Middle East Gulf.