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This is about more than the future of Euronav

As shipping plots its course to the digitally integrated, net zero times to come, the era of the Onassis on steroids dealmaker is drawing to a close

Alexander Saverys’ perspective for tanker shipping is built around a business model that is radically different to the one Fredriksen exemplifies

TWO households, both alike in dignity. But in contrast to the Montagues and Capulets before them, the Fredriksens and the Saverys have called time on the bloodshed before ancient grudge break to new mutiny.

This week’s proposed deal between the two sides is likely to bring their epic 18-month battle for control of Belgian tanker major Euronav to a close, at least if regulators and shareholders give it the nod.

Frontline will quit the poker table with ownership of 24 Euronav VLCCs at a price of $2.35bn, thereby achieving the consolidation Fredriksen so obviously craves.

With new VLCCs fetching around $100m on resale right now and five-year-olds changing hands about $74m, the assumption is that he is receiving the younger end of Euronav’s tonnage at something like net asset value.

But Frontline will be catapulted ahead of Bahri and Angelicoussis to operate the world’s second-largest fleet in this size bracket, behind only China Merchants Group, something that will naturally appeal to a legacy-minded old man in a hurry.

In return, Fredriksen investment vehicle Famatown will divest its 26.12% tranche of Euronav’s issued shares to the Saverys’ Compagnie Maritime Belge for $18.43 per share, to be followed by a public mandatory offer at the same price.

For other Euronav shareholders, the offer represents a 12.5% premium on the share price in September, which is nothing to grumble about.

In this element rests the main upside for Fredriksen, which is obviously substantial. The upside for the Saverys is that they retain control of a somewhat diminished family company.

We have known for some time that the Saverys clan had been trying to convince Fredriksen to take the money (and ships) and run. But convincing a man like Fredriksen to do anything is clearly not for the faint of heart, or the impatient.

What we are left with is a compromise solution rather than a knockout for either side; in footballing terms, this was a score draw.

Yet like all Shakespeare plays, the themes depicted here run far deeper than the fate of the individual characters and tell us something existential about la condition humaine. Or at least the state of the tanker market.

What may look like a tussle over the ownership of a single operator has wider significance, particularly in terms of shipping’s decarbonisation debate.

John Fredriksen’s pursuit of profit and deals, ideally at the expense of someone else publicly and painfully losing, is the stuff of legend. But such Onassis on steroids tribute act behaviour is increasingly anachronistic in an industry rapidly reforming and plotting a course to a digitally integrated, net zero future.

CMB’s more cerebral Alexander Saverys is more representative of the new breed of tanker chief exec. When news of the potentially settlement finally leaked — as all deals do once bankers and brokers start getting involved — he was in Namibia, attending the groundbreaking of Africa’s first public green hydrogen refuelling station.

This is a project he has personally championed. The contrast in symbolism with the old school shipping tycoon is stark.

Alexander Saverys’ perspective is built around well-capitalised companies such as Euronav leading on innovation and accelerating access to the zero-carbon molecules that shipping needs to power a different business model to the one Fredriksen exemplifies.

Big John, approaching his 80th birthday, will no doubt be relaxing in his favourite leather armchair this weekend, pondering whether a $1bn share buyout and a slice of the fleet he was thwarted from merging with last year is a sufficient “win” in his eyes.

But as shipping becomes more like other sectors, protracted hostile takeover bids like this one, already rare, are set to become rarer still. It is not just Fredriksen’s end game that is at stake.

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