CONTAINER | Argentina’s Maruba on the ropes — again

LLOYD’S LIST

THE future of troubled Argentine line Maruba has once again been thrown into doubt after one of the company’s few remaining tonnage providers demanded the early return of its vessels.

German KG house and shipowner Gebab had chartered two 2,700 teu ships to Maruba, but pulled the vessels back after the stricken line was unable to pay the charter rates.

The move follows a series of financial problems for the line which is indebted to several key creditors including Textainer, a number of shipowner and container leasing companies.

Gebab has already signed new charter contracts with Orient Overseas Container Line for both vessels, the Maruba Europa and the Maruba Maxima, however Gebab is still demanding outstanding charter payments from Maruba.

Other German owners that have vessels chartered to Maruba are understood to be considering similar moves against the company.

A spokeswoman for German KG house and shipowner Hansa Treuhand confirmed that it was involved in “intensive talks” with the line over the 2,500 teu Maruba Pampero.

“We have not yet come to a decision regarding a potential withdrawal,” the spokeswoman said.

Munich-based KG house Conti, which also has two vessels chartered to the line, is understood to be holding talks with Maruba. Conti did not want to comment but insiders said that the company expected an agreement between Maruba and the shipowners to be signed within the next few days.

Maruba was recently reported to be in the process of discontinuing its Round The World Service, which it initiated back in March to replace the east coast of South America to Asia service. According to Containersiation International, Maruba was asked in May not to join the New Mesa service to the Mediterranean and exited the ECSA to northern Europe trade lane at the end of last year. The RTW service was supposed to keep the Argentine flag flying on at least the lucrative ECSA to Asia route but now even that has been pulled.

Given the dire financial predicament of the company, few now expect the line to survive in its current form.

Even the Argentine maritime union, Sindicato Obreros Marítimos Unidos, which is seeking to save Maruba through a lifeline of as much as $100m, has now accepted that the group has little future in the international container trades.

“I think that some routes will be abandoned. The workers are not accustomed to losing money and the competition is ferocious. We know that in some trades we cannot be competitive,” SOMU secretary-general Omar Suarez told Lloyd’s List.

Last month, Maruba’s board revealed to local media that it was open to receive an injection of $40m from maritime unions in return for a 30% stake in the company.

Despite the last ditch plans for a rescue, one German shipowner involved directly with Maruba told Lloyd’s List that the line was now widely expected to withdraw completely from container shipping given that it had no independent market access. At least two partners, among them CMA CGM, have already terminated business operations with Maruba.

The German owner suggested that Maruba could still survive, but only with a radical change in strategy, possibly to small scale bulk shipping.

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