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Ridgebury Septet to Join Blue Fin Pool

March 21, 2014

by Tradewinds

The Bob Burke-led company’s expansion is among the developments fueling Heidmar’s recovery following the withdrawal of 30 ships by George Economou’s TMS Tankers

Fast-growing Ridgebury Tankers is one of four owners adding tonnage to Connecticut-based Heidmar’s pooling operation.

Bob Burke-led Ridgebury is set to have all seven of its Suezmaxes operate in Heidmar’s Blue Fin pool by later this year, up from just two units at the start of 2014.

What Ridgebury has in common with three new entrants to Heidmar — Conti Shipping of Germany, China Merchants Energy Shipping (CMES) and Nan Fung Shipping both of China — is a long-term approach by the pooling giant to win their business, according to new Heidmar chief executive Ben Ognibene.

Heidmar has been courting Burke since 2008, when Ridgebury staged an aborted attempt at an initial public offering (IPO) in which it tried to buy tankers from the fleet of Teekay Corp. While that did not work, Burke won backing from private equity’s Riverstone Holdings and has built a fleet of Suezmaxes and products tankers over the past year.

“So now we’re seeing his ships come in 2013 and 2014 — it’s a long-term relationship,” Ognibene said in an interview. “That’s the whole name of the game. We started talks with Conti in 2008 and we’ve been visiting China Merchants and Nan Fung for 10 years.”

As TradeWinds reported last week, Burke has just pulled off a $210m high-yield bond issue in Oslo that allowed him to boost Ridgebury’s Suezmax fleet to seven from four. He has acquired two units from Dynacom Tankers of Greece — the 146,500-dwt Ice Explorer (built 2006) and Ice Traveler (built 2007). A third, the 166,500-dwt Prisco Mizar (built 2007), came from Primorsk Shipping (Prisco) of Russia.

While the Prisco vessel already was operating in Blue Fin, the ex-Dynacom ships are expected to enter next month, Ognibene says. “Bob is a growing customer because he’s buying more ships,” Ognibene said. “He’s timed the market well. And it’s nice that he’s located just up the road.”

Heidmar, which celebrates its 30th anniversary later this year, is headquartered in Norwalk. Ridgebury is based in the bordering town of Westport.

The new pool entrants are not local.

Conti is contributing two long-range-two (LR2) units, which it originally committed on a delayed basis in 2008. The 105,000-dwt Alpine Alaska and Alpine Madagascar (both built 2009), at that time, were placed on five-year time charters with ST Shipping and thus are only now joining Heidmar’s Sigma Tankers.

China Merchants is adding a pair of aframaxes, the 103,380-dwt New Activity and New Ability (both built 2008). Nan Fung has placed the 114,800-dwt Baltic Galaxy and Caspian Galaxy (both built 2009).

Overall, Heidmar has about 100 vessels across all its pools, Ognibene says. While this is down from its historic high, Heidmar has nearly replaced all ships withdrawn by its co-owner, George Economou, over the past year or so.

Economou’s TMS Tankers withdrew 10 Suezmaxes and 20 aframaxes. Sigma has managed to replace all 20 aframaxes with new tonnage, Ognibene says. Blue Fin is still smaller than the 25 or 26 units before the TMS pullout but is back to 21 including options on vessels not yet in the pool.

Heidmar has less tonnage chartered in for its own account than in years past but is now actively seeking opportunities, Ognibene says. It also boosted its chartering staff this week with the hire of former Scorpio Tankers and OMI Corp executive Olivier Faurisson to work from its London office.