India’s Cabinet had, in November 2019, given an in-principle approval for the strategic divestment of its entire 63.75% equity stake in SCI, and also its shareholding in rail-borne cargo carrier, Container Corporation of India (CONCOR). However, the swift spread of the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic delayed the disinvestment process.
Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, said in her Budget speech for 2021-22, had said that a number of disinvestment transactions for Bharat Petroleum Corp Ltd (BPCL), Air India, Shipping Corp of India, Container Corp of India, IDBI Bank, BEML, Pawan Hans and Neelachal Ispat Nigam, among others, would be completed in fiscal 2021-22.
“Multiple Expressions of Interest (EoI) have been received for the privatisation, along with the transfer of management, of SCI” said Tuhin Kanta Pandey, secretary of Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM). “The transaction will now move to the second stage.”
The last date for submitting bids for the 60-year old SCI was originally February 13, but it was later extended to March 1. The corporation currently owns 60 vessels in practically every segment of shipping – 15 bulk carriers, 13 product tankers, 14 crude oil carriers, five VLCCs, one gas carrier, two liners and ten offshore supply vessels – and is headed by Harjeet Kaur Joshi.
It was hardly surprising to find Great Eastern Shipping, which owns 69 vessels, leading the list of suitors for SCI’s hand, as there are considerable synergies between the fleets of both companies. However, the presence of the Foresight Group, headed by Indian shipping magnate Ravi Mehrotra, who owns the footwear brand Pavers England, did raise a few eyebrows.
Foresight heads a consortium that includes Belgium-listed shipping company Exmar and the Dubai-based GMS, which is headed by Dr. Anil Sharma, and is the world’s leading cash buyer of ships headed for demolition at shipbreaking yards like Alang and Sosiya in Gujarat.
Other companies in the bidding war include Anil Agarwal’s Vedanta Group, owners of Sterlite Industries and Seven Islands, a Mumbai-based logistics company. Toronto-based Indian-Canadian billionaire Prem Watsa, chairman of Fairfax Financial Holdings, has also thrown his hat into the ring, as has SafeSeas of the United Arab Emirates.