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Rickmers Unite
05/09/2003 (TradeWinds)

The Rickmers brothers are taking the Hamburg boxship-chartering scene by storm.

Rickmers brothers Bertram and Erck have reunited as partners in exclusive in-house broker Harper Petersen in a move that could make them the biggest force on Hamburg's box-chartering scene.

Seven years after splitting their interests the sibling shipowners have renewed co-operation by taking joint control of Harper Petersen and are pooling their boxship fleets under the company as exclusive broker. Harper Petersen will now control the chartering of 135 vessels of 450,000 teu.

Bertram Rickmers will pull his fleet of 75 ships of 200,000 teu out of the Peter Dohle pool -- virtually cutting in half the fleet of about 190 vessels managed by the up-to-now dominant German broking house. The aim is for the expanding Harper Petersen to provide container carriers with a complete range of vessels from 1,000 teu to 8,000 teu.

In July Erck Rickmers acquired a majority stake in London-based Harper Petersen from J&J Denholm and opened a Hamburg office under managing director Jens Mahnke to be exclusive broker for his ER Shipping fleet of boxships.

Bertram Rickmers has now acquired 50% of the shares bought by Erck Rickmers and also appointed Harper Petersen as sole broker.

Former Mentz & Decker boxship broker Bendt Muller is said to be joining Harper Petersen as it expands its Hamburg operation. Earlier the company said it would take on two senior brokers by the end of the year. Bertram and Erck Rickmers split their interests in 1997. Erck went on to concentrate on financing, building and long-term chartering of panamax and post-panamax ships through Nordcapital. Bertram wanted to stay with the more traditional end of the business building a fleet of ships ranging from 1,000 teu to 5,000 teu.

Although sources say their split was not as deep or intense as publicly speculated, the rapprochement between the two brothers is significant. Coming together again means they have built a combined fleet that reflects the whole range of vessels that major liner operators are likely to want to charter.

Mahnke says consolidation in the liner industry and the growing demand for container tonnage are behind the move. "The new shareholder structure puts Harper Petersen in an even better position to serve its clients with a broad size range of container vessels," he added.

Industry sources add that the brothers will also save substantial costs. Dohle is said to have charged Rickmers 1.25% commission on chartering.

Brokers also say the move may open up the market if Harper Petersen takes a less robust attitude toward direct charters between owners and carriers. Harper Petersen's fleet is also likely to expand as newbuildings come on stream.

Erck Rickmers has some 28 vessels on order ranging from 2,500 teu to 8,000 teu, although four 5,000 teu units have been sold on -- two to Diana Shipping, one to Zim and one to Germany's Hans Peterson.

Bertram Rickmers also has a strong orderbook including some 10 1,800-teu vessels and another 10 5,050-teu panamax ships.

Harper Petersen was formed 60 years ago as a dry-cargo player but moved into box broking to become a major, if low-profile, firm on the London scene. During the 1990s it was a broker for P&O Containers, Nedlloyd and CP Ships among other liner groups.

Chairman Kenneth Petersen sold the firm to Denholm in 2000 but remains a minority shareholder along with Denholm Group. Competitive broker Duncan Brown still works from Harper Petersen's London office.

By Paul Berrill London

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