THE EVER-expanding MSC on Wednesday [24 April] launched a US$700 million takeover for Norway’s Gram Car Carriers, with the offer recommended by the target’s board.

GCC, which functions as the world’s third-largest tonnage provider to other PCTC operators, owns a fleet of 18 vessels covering the distribution, mid-size and panamax segments. Its ships, ranging from 2000-7000 CEU, are regular Australian visitors on charter to “K” Line, MOL, NYK, Armacup, Grimaldi, Höegh and Hyundai Glovis.

The takeover has been mounted by MSC subsidiary SAS Shipping Agencies Services and values the company’s shares at a 28.3% premium to their last trading price on 23 April on the Oslo Stock Exchange. GCC’s largest shareholders, (F. Laeisz GmbH, AL Maritime Holding Pte. Ltd., Glenrinnes Farms Limited, HM Gram Investment III Limited and HM Gram Enterprises Limited), which in aggregate hold approximately 54.54% of the shares, have given irrevocable undertakings to accept the offer.

Board chairman Ivar Myklebust said the voluntary offer by one of the world’s leading maritime groups, was a validation of the unique position GCC had built as a leading car shipping tonnage provider and the long-term commitment put in by the entire team. “The board is satisfied that the offer represents a fair valuation of GCC, as is also reflected in the recommendation to shareholders to accept the offer,” he said.

It is unknown whether the Swiss giant plans eventually to operate the GCC ships itself. MSC dipped its toe in the PCTC waters when it took delivery in 2011-12 of two 5,500 CEU units, MSC Cristiana and MSC Immacolata but both have been chartered out to Gold Star Line. Nevertheless, it’s noteworthy that fellow liner operators CMA CGM and HMM have entered/re-entered the trades, while contrarily, Maersk has completely sold out of its investment in Höegh Autoliners.

The acquisition of GCC, which is expected to be completed by end-June, is just the latest in a busy year for the Gianluigi Aponte-led MSC which has already invested in a French logistics company, an Italian marine engine manufacturer, and 49.9% of Hamburg terminal operator HHLA. It’s also reported to be interested in an Italian rail freight company. The group has also been expanding its interests in towage, ferries, cruise ships, media and aviation.