CONSORTIUM DROPS BID FOR THAI SHIP LINE

CONSORTIUM DROPS BID FOR THAI SHIP LINE

Attempts to privatize Thailand's national shipping carrier, Thai Maritime Navigation Co. (TMN), appear to have failed for a second time after more than a year of negotiations.

A consortium led by Jutha Maritime Co. said it was withdrawing from the bidding for state-owned TMN, blaming indecision by the Transport and Communications Department for the move.Jutha Maritime said in October last year it would buy 55 percent of TMN in conjunction with Siam Petra Ltd. and Siam Commercial Bank Ltd. The rest was to remain with the Ministry of Finance.

Since then, nothing has happened. Chanet Phenjati, Jutha Maritime's president, now says he no longer can wait on the ministry and has decided to withdraw its takeover proposal.

"In doing business, the time frame is one of the key factors of success," Mr. Chanet said. "Under Jutha's plan, we would have taken over TMN in April this year and acquired at least two vessels. However, we still don't know what the government will decide."

Further delays were expected to impede the company's operations, he said, especially planning.

Initial interest in the carrier was expressed by five local shipping operators when bids were called last year. In the event, the Jutha consortium was the only formal bid when offers closed.

TMN is largely a carrier in name only. Its fleet was sold over recent years to meet crippling debts, now estimated at more than 200 million baht ($8 million). Since then, the line has chartered space from foreign carriers.

More than 90 percent of Thailand's international trade is transported by foreign vessels, which is a significant drain on the balance of payments.