John Fredriksen, Frontline, winner TradeWinds Power 2012.

As the clock counted down to the end of 2011, time was running out for John Fredriksen’s flaship company, Frontline.

Dwindling cash reserves in a tanker market living up to Tor Olav Troim’s infamous “Black Death” prophecy had one of the sector’s leading names staring down the barrel of a gun. Add in the pressure of hefty debts, costly charter contracts and a weighty orderbook and the world’s largest listed tanker company looked like a recipe for disaster in the General Maritime Corp (Genmar) mould.

Desperate times called for desperate measures and with one swipe of his pen, Fredriksen had written a $500m cheque to save the day. “Only John Fredriksen could have pulled this off,” said Platou’s Richard Fulford-Smith in the aftermath of the move.

Far from weakening his position, the power and willingness to rescue Frontline (like his earlier bailout of Golden Ocean) served to enhance Fredriksen’s reputation in the eyes of investors, TradeWinds is told.

Since proving the adage that with great power comes great responsibility, Fredriksen has not looked back.

So Frontline, while split in two, lives to fight another day with a new offshoot primed for expansion.

At the same time, drilling arm Seadrill has binged on newbuildings, Golar LNG has built a sector-leading orderbook and a return to the improving products-tanker market has been secured through a sizeable newbuilding order.

But the real flexing of Fredriksen’s muscles came in March 2012 when he cashed in $1bn-worth of Seadrill shares to fund further investment in shipping. Initial suggestions were that a $3bn shopping spree could be on the cards — but Fredriksen has since placed the potential outlay at $12bn.

It is little wonder those close to the Cypriot national say he is in his best form for quite some time. He has even found time for a spot of hunting of late.

“He has strengthened during the crisis while others have been weakened,” one seasoned Norwegian shipping expert observed.

Financially, despite the shipping crisis, he is certainly better off. The shipowner, who lives in London where he part-owns a restaurant popular with the shipping crowd, was recently valued at £6.6bn ($10.3bn) by UK newspaper The Sunday Times. That left him £400m up on a year earlier, and almost twice as wealthy as Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson.

Critics may argue Fredriksen is more of an offshore businessman these days. Seadrill, despite the share sale, still accounts for a sizeable chunk of his investment.

However, Fredriksen remains a shipowner at heart. When it comes to ordering new vessels, his interest still extends down to technical details such as the choice of engines and pumps, it is claimed.

His enthusiasm for the industry was laid bare in a recent interview when he said he did not bid for a $120m piece of art being sold off by the Olsen family as “I could buy several tankers for that money”.

As one TradeWinds reader who voted for Fredriksen to top this list commented: “Big John is shipping.”

Another commented: “Among this businessman’s qualities, ‘resilience’ and, in many instances, ‘resurrection’, spring to mind when the name John F is spoken. To me, apart from a powerful owner, he is the ‘phoenix of shipping’.”

Fredriksen, despite recently turning 68, has no plans to retire and leave his twin daughters to run the empire. This is despite both taking up boardroom roles at many listed companies under Fredriksen’s stewardship. “If I retire, what would I do?” he told Reuters in April. “That’s worse than thinking about [the shipping crisis]. Will I sit by the pool and drink gin and tonic? That’s not me.”

Likely to be at his side is trusted aide Troim, who is said by many in Oslo to be the son Fredriksen never had.

The ace dealmaker, who took centre stage as Frontline was resuscitated, will be a prime mover in whatever the Fredriksen Empire does next.