Hyundai Merchant Marine says it may bid for Hanjin's Asia-U.S. route assets

SEOUL/SINGAPORE (Reuters) - South Korea's Hyundai Merchant Marine Co Ltd 011200.KS said on Tuesday it may submit a preliminary bid for Hanjin Shipping Co Ltd 117930.KS assets used in Asia-to-U.S. routes - a sale seen as key to Hanjin's prospects for paying off creditors.

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Hanjin, the first major shipping line to be dragged down by global industry overcapacity and low freight rates, put up manpower and logistics systems, five container ships and 10 overseas businesses, for sale last week.

The extent of other bidding interest in the assets was unclear but shipping sources were doubtful that there would be a rush of buyers.

“Container shipping is a service business and anybody acquiring it would be worried about potential legal suits as well despite the sale being ring-fenced,” said Rahul Kapoor, director at Drewry Financial Research Services.

“Why would one pay for a ghost network when the credibility of that network has been under threat,” he said.

Kapoor said the only assets with any value would be the 8-10 year old container ships which could be worth $15-18 million each.

South Korean shipping sources also said that established shippers would be unlikely to show any interest in the manpower and logistics systems as they would have their own, although a newcomer to the industry might find them valuable.

A Hyundai Merchant Marine spokesman said that while the firm was considering the bid it had not made a final decision.

A bid by Hyundai Merchant Marine would be looked on favorably by the South Korean government if it helps Hyundai Merchant Marine expand market share or normalize its business, government sources have said.

The court overseeing Hanjin Shipping’s receivership said the five container ships up for sale each had a cargo capacity of about 6,500 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs).

Container ships of that size are fit to serve routes between Asia and the Middle East and India, which are operated by shippers such as Hyundai Merchant Marine or Singapore’s Pacific International Lines (PIL), the sources said. They declined to be identified as they were not authorized to speak to the media.

PIL did not immediately respond to questions asking if it would be interested in buying the Hanjin ships and other assets.

A Seoul-based ship broker said the vessel sales would be done by Hanjin’s internal ship sales department rather than handled by independent ship brokers.

None of Hanjin Shipping’s interests in port terminals around the world are included in the sale at the moment.

Hanjin, which filed for court receivership on Aug. 31 after its creditors cut off financial support for the firm, had total debt of 6.03 trillion won ($5.4 billion) as of end-June.

Reporting by Joyce Lee and Keith Wallis; Editing by Edwina Gibbs