* US-Mexico's Baja Ferries in talks about buying SNCM
* Logistics specialist Olivier Diehl to become SNCM CEO
* Source says SNCM has enough cash for coming months
(Adds detail on new chief executive, cash position)
By Geert De Clercq
PARIS, May 26 U.S.-Mexico ferry operator Baja
Ferries is in talks with French transport firm Transdev about
buying its 66 percent stake in loss-making France-Corsica ferry
Operator of a ferry line between Topolobampo, Mexico, and
the city of La Paz on the Baja peninsula in California, Baja
Ferries is part of Paris-based Unishipping, a privately owned
shipping group which also operates a Puerto Rico-Dominican
Republic ferry and has turnover of about $160 million.
"Our proposal for SNCM seems well accepted by Transdev and
was presented to the government," Unishipping Chief Executive
Daniel Berrebi told Reuters on Monday.
A source close to Transdev confirmed the talks. "Unishipping
is a serious candidate," he said.
SNCM racked up cumulative losses of 250 million euros ($341
million) between 2001 and 2013 and has made a small profit only
once in the past decade. Last year the government, which has a
direct 25 percent stake in the ferry operator, gave the company
30 million euros to keep it sailing.
Norway's Siem Shipping Inc earlier this month
withdrew its bid for SNCM in a blow to environmental services
group Veolia whose Transdev unit - which it jointly
owns with state-owned Caisse des depots (CDC) - has been trying
for years to sell SNCM.
Transdev said on Monday it will propose logistics specialist
Olivier Diehl, a former head of DHL France who has also run the
French post office's Americas unit GeoPost, as the new SNCM
chief executive at a board meeting on Wednesday.
Diehl, 58, is an expert in corporate restructuring and has
roots in Marseille, a source close to Transdev told Reuters.
Following the dismissal of SNCM chief executive Marc Dufour
- who had sided with the unions against his employer - Diehl
needs to put a new restructuring plan in motion and look for a
buyer for SNCM.
SNCM's unions are wary of the new management and fear that
Transdev will let the ferry operator go bankrupt.
"It looks like the highest levels of the French state, the
prime minister and the president, have decided to abandon SNCM,
despite the fact that solutions exist," CFE-CGC union
representative Maurice Perrin told Reuters on Monday.
The transport ministry was not immediately available to
Veolia has said that the firm needs to go under court
protection to shield itself from a European Union order that it
repay 440 million euros of illegal state aid.
A source with direct knowledge of the situation told Reuters
that as bookings for the summer season come in, SNCM should have
enough cash to pay salaries and fuel in coming months.
"Barring anything unforseen during the summer season, SNCM
should have no liquidity problems in the short term," he said.
($1 = 0.7336 Euros)
(Additional reporting by Jean-Francois Rosnoblet; Editing by