MSC Teresa (3)

MSC is preparing contingency plans for customers’ cargo, should the three containerships it has on charter from Rickmers be claimed by the bankrupt group’s creditors.

Rickmers Group entered self-administered insolvency on 2 June. The vessels affected are the 1,854 teu John Rickmers, 1,216 teu Sandy Rickmers and 4,444 teu MSC Florida.

The time charter on the latter two expires in September, while the John Rickmers is not scheduled to be returned until March 2018.

MSC says it is “actively monitoring the situation” and is “ready to act quickly should a creditor take action against any of the three vessels”.

A statement said: “MSC is preparing contingency plans and will act as quickly as possible to minimise the delays to customers’ cargo.”

Moreover, MSC cautioned that it had slot charter arrangements with other carriers that operate Rickmers-owned vessels and has containers on board these ships.

“MSC is ready to cooperate with those lines to minimise the delays to cargo if any action is taken against those vessels,” it said.

2M partner Maersk Line has eight 13,500 teu ships on long-term charter from Rickmers that potentially could be subject to arrest by bunker suppliers, ports and service providers in an endeavour to protect their interests.

In addition to Maersk, other shipping lines operating chartered vessels from Rickmers include Zim, ANL, Seago, X-Press Feeders and StreamLines.

Shippers will be very concerned about the Rickmers situation and will want to avoid being caught up in the many weeks of delays to containers that occurred after the sudden crash of Hanjin Shipping last August.

When Hanjin went into receivership around 100 vessels, carrying some 500,000 teu of freight estimated to be worth $14bn, were stranded at sea or in port while lawyers battled to recover shippers’ cargo.

Industry concerns prompted THE Alliance to include wording in its vessel-sharing agreement – effective 1 April – that authorised the other partners to continue vessel and cargo operations in the event of a member bankruptcy.

Rickmers was forced into insolvency when its main creditor bank, HSH Nordbank, rejected a proposed restructuring plan on 31 May that would have seen its fifth-generation family owner Bertram Rickmers have his stake in the company diluted to 24.9%.

Earlier in the year its affiliate, Singapore-based Rickmers Maritime Trust (RMT), the owner of 14 panamax containerships, was forced into receivership. Of RMT’s fleet, five vessels are on long-term charter to MOL, while CMA CGM charters three ships.

In theory the Rickmers Group business vessel operations, and of affiliate RMT, should be able to continue under the protection of German insolvency laws while the courts agree a restructuring plan, but there is the chance that a rogue creditor could attempt to take matters into its own hands by slapping a writ on the mast of one of its ships while in port.

This is clearly the concern of MSC and its customers and the reason for the carrier breaking with its normal policy of minimal comment on such matters.

MSC has added that its charters are all bareboat, thus it is responsible for the crew and for payments to suppliers.

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