ship money © Sergey Khakimullin |
© Sergey Khakimullin

Containership owner Seaspan Corporation has acquired a financial war chest to consolidate the “fragmented” boxship leasing market and further strengthen its leading position.

Last week, Fairfax Financial Holdings announced a $500m investment in Seaspan, which said it would prioritise strengthening its balance sheet.

However, it has confirmed it will also consider vessel and business acquisitions as it looks to lead the way in sector consolidation.

But with daily hire rates soaring, boosted by an acute shortage of open tonnage in the smaller sized market, Seaspan may have to pay top dollar for the ships or businesses it targets.

The latest investment takes Fairfax’s stake in the NYSE-listed Seaspan to $1bn and would, said the shipowner, “significantly strengthen” its balance sheet, “materially improve” its access to capital and “accelerate” its aspiration to achieve an investment grade credit rating.

Seaspan currently has 112 containerships “on the water” with $5-$6bn of long-term contracts attached, said president and chief executive Bing Chen, .

Chairman David Sokol said the containership business would continue to be the focus for Seaspan, but that, “with any business you look for more legs to the stool”. He added: “Long-term, it is important for the company to have more diversification.”

Seaspan’s total fleet of 122 ships ranges in size from 2,500-14,080 teu and is mostly chartered-out on long-term hire at a fixed rate to the world’s biggest carriers. According to vesselsvalue data, the current worth of the vessels, which have an average age of six years, is $4.6bn.

At the time of the Hanjin bankruptcy in September 2016, Seaspan had three 10,100 teu vessels on long-term charter to the South Korean carrier. Its affiliate Greater China Intermodal Investments (GCI), which it now owns, also had four 10,100 teu ships fixed long-term with Hanjin.

Seaspan was badly stung by the collapse of Hanjin, not only in the charter party defaults and payment arrears that were allowed to accumulate, but also by the plunge in asset values of ships that no longer had lucrative contracts attached.

Since then, investors have questioned the blueprint of Seaspan and its peers – that the charter party contracts with carriers ‘ring fence’ them from the risk of an otherwise volatile shipping market. Moreover, with the major reporting container lines having posted a cumulative loss of $1.2bn in the first quarter of the year, concerns are being raised that “another Hanjin” could happen this year if trading does not improve.

The latest Fairfax investment will come in two tranches of $250m; the first in July and the second in January 2019.

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