A new joint venture between Compagnie Generale Maritime, France's largest shipping company, and Sofrana Unilines SA has purchased Pacific Australian Direct Line from the Transatlantic Group of Sweden for an undisclosed price.

The PAD Line route between the U.S. West Coast and Australia-New Zealand was the only missing link in the world network operated by CGM, a member of the Atlantic Container Line serving the trade between the U.S. East Coast and northern Europe.The joint venture, PAD Line Overseas SA, is equally owned by CGM and Sofrana. It will continue to participate in the Australian New Zealand Direct Line consortium with the New Zealand Shipping Co.

ANZDL officials in California declined to comment on the deal.

CGM's partnership with Sofrana, a New Zealand-based carrier that is 40 percent owned by France's second-largest shipping company, Delmas-Vieljeux , involves only the PAD Line business.

In a separate deal, CGM has purchased three roll-on roll-off vessels from PAD Line. It will transfer the two that have been operating on Australia-New Zealand route to its Europe-French Polynesia/New Caledonia route, and replace them with chartered ships.

PAD Line's third roll-on roll-off ship, which now operates on the Europe- South Africa route, will join the other two. The four vessels now on the Europe-Polynesia run will be placed on the international market after a change of flag.

Gilbert Massac, CGM's strategy and development director, said no decision has yet been made on whether to charter container, roll-on roll-off or breakbulk ships for the new service.

Various combinations are possible, he said. But we will decide shortly, as we plan to withdraw the vessels within the next three months.

CGM reportedly paid 180 million francs (about $32 million) for the three ships.