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By Balazs Koranyi and Geert De Clercq
OSLO/PARIS May 14 Norway's Siem Shipping Inc
has withdrawn its bid for French group SNCM, in a blow
to environmental services group Veolia which has been
trying for years to sell the loss-making operator of ferries
between France and Corsica.
Last month, transport firm Transdev, which is jointly owned
by Veolia and state-backed Caisse des Depots (CDC), said it was
in talks with Siem about the sale of its 66 percent SNCM stake.
"It is a fact that the process has been very lengthy and
somewhat unclear, and with the situation that now prevails, it's
probably better we call it off," Kristian Siem, founder,
director and chairman of Siem Industries - the owner of Siem
Shipping - told Reuters.
"We have informed the individuals involved of this."
Siem's withdrawal follows Monday's ousting of SNCM chief
Marc Dufour, who had ignored instructions from shareholders and
sided with the unions to support a restructuring plan which
Transdev did not deem credible.
Siem was the only bidder for SNCM, which Transdev has been
trying sell for years. The French state also has a direct SNCM
stake of 25 percent and its employees own 9 percent.
Weighed down by more than a decade of losses and with an EU
order to repay 440 million euros of illegal state aid hanging
over it, SNCM was kept afloat with 30 million euros in state
financing in the past few months after Transdev said it would
put no new money in the ferry operator.
The European Commission has ordered France to recover 440
million euros ($607 million) in state aid from SNCM, which also
runs ferries between France and North Africa. France is
appealing against the ruling.
Veolia CEO Antoine Frerot has said finding a viable
solution for SNCM would mean putting the latter under court
protection to shield it from the aid repayment claim.
A solution for SNCM is crucial for Veolia, as it is a
precondition for its plan to sell part of its Transdev stake to
CDC, as CDC does not want to take over Transdev with SNCM.
(Editing by David Holmes)