A company linked to Russian creditor Sberbank has bought the tanker and tank barge fleet of Turkish owner Palmali Holdings' bankrupt Russian subsidiary.

The 46 vessels were acquired at auction after the bank failed to find any other buyer, a statement on the website of Russia's Interregional Electronic Trading System (IETS) said.

The buyer of Rostov-on-Don-based Palmali LLC was SBK Dolina at a price of RUB 4.03bn ($60.5m), IETS said. SBK Dolina was the only bidder.

The Spark-Interfax news agency reported that SBK Dolina is registered in Moscow and engages in the provision of financial services, with Sberbank as its ultimate owner.

Palmali was declared bankrupt in 2018, and creditors' claims exceed RUB 25bn, including about RUB 13bn demanded by Sberbank, to which the Palmali LLC fleet was pledged.

Management deal?

In June, Sberbank was reportedly considering transferring the Palmali LLC fleet to the rest of the Palmali group for commercial management.

The Russian unit was one of the largest carriers in the Volga-Don basin and the Caspian region.

Two previous auctions had been pulled by Sberbank in December 2019 and February this year due to a lack of buyers. The second of these had a starting price of RUB 5.7bn.

The group specialises in product tankers of between 3,000 dwt and 20,000 dwt.

Sberbank has not commented on the sale process.

Owner arrested

Palmali owner Mubariz Mansimov was arrested in Turkey in March. Turkish prosecutors have accused him of links to an outlawed organisation headed by Fethullah Gulen, an opponent of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In a response to the reports, Palmali said in June that "there is no evidence to support these false claims", which Mansimov "emphatically denies".

"Allegations that Mr Mansimov has been declared bankrupt or that the English [High] Court has issued an injunction against his personal assets are also false," the company said. "Mr Mansimov has not been declared bankrupt by any court. Nor has an injunction has been made against Mr Mansimov."

Palmali said that on 28 April, Sberbank obtained a freezing order against one company in the Palmali group: Palmali Holding Co (PHC).

In February 2019, a quartet of small Palmali Holdings tankers was auctioned off. The four 6,600-dwt sisterships were involved in Sberbank’s RUB 13bn claim.

Fleet shrinking

And earlier this year, German interests moved to take control of six general cargoships over unpaid debts totalling $27m.

In 2006, lender HSH Nordbank, which has been renamed Hamburg Commercial Bank after disposing of the vast majority of its shipping portfolio, extended the loans for the acquisition of the vessels.

The debt is said to have been restructured five times since then, but Palmali stopped servicing it altogether in 2018, TradeWinds has reported.

UK shipbroker Clarksons lists the Palmali group with 64 vessels, including the 46 owned by Palmali LLC.

VesselsValue assesses the fleet as worth $180m.

Besides the tankers, there are three idle general cargoships and seven multipurpose vessels, two of which are listed as idle and two under repair.