THE Chinese ship-breaking group, Shanghai Foreign Trade, has resold the Capesize bulk carrier Marra Mamba just as the ship was destined to go to the scrap-heap.
This has led to the vessel, which is thought to be in port at Hong Kong, becoming the focus of fierce criticism from the previous owners, Australia's Broken Hill Proprietary (BHP).
The vessel was sold to Greek interests for further trading along with another ageing Capesize vessel called the Steel Glory, which had also attracted interest from the scrap-yards.
The sales, which come at a time when rates for Capesize ships have been surging, follow a spate of sinkings of older Capesizes which has sparked concern about the safety of the bulker type.
BHP, which is one of the worlds biggest charterers, sold the Marra Mamba in June for US$3 million to the Chinese ship breaker. It has threatened to blacklist the vessel and has also called on its customers to avoid chartering the vessel.
The 1975-built, 116,294-dwt Marra Mamba is understood to have been sold to interests associated with the Greek Efshipping group, run by Theodore and Angelos Efstathiou.
Efshipping is also understood to have bought the second ship, the 138,000-dwt Steel Glory, also built in 1975.
The Chinese, meanwhile, are reported to have made US$400,000 from the Marra Mamba deal.
Brokers said the new owners of the two ships appeared to be making the most of the improvement in Capesize rates which may make it profitable for the new owners to operate the ships before selling them for scrap.
Commenting on the sale of the Steel Glory, one scrap broker in Hong Kong said the ship had been repaired and had never been sold for scrap. He added that the Chinese owners, Cheer Glory, which belongs to a Chinese steel trading group, had sold the ship at a loss.
The Steel Glory, previously known as the Kashee, was picked up by Cheer Glory for US$4.35 million at auction in Hong Kong in June. The company had planned to operate the vessel along the Chinese coast, and had considered towing it into scrap yards in China if necessary.
The vessel was reported to have been the subject of a great deal of interest from scrap-yards in China before it was sold to the Greek company.
The threat of a boycott by BHP is considered to carry considerable weight because the company is a large supplier of minerals and one of the world's biggest charterers of vessels, repairing about 600 ships a year.
According to the international shipping weekly TradeWinds, the BHP group claimed to be distressed and concerned by the turn of events.
''We made a judgment that at 19 years, it was not going to be economically attractive to keep the ship to the standard we expect, so we decided to sell for scrap,'' it quoted a BHP spokesman as saying.
''If we felt it had a future, we would have hung on to it ourselves or sold it as a going concern,'' it said.
Many other owners are calling for the scrapping of Capesize ships.
Hong Kong's biggest shipping group, World-Wide Shipping Agency, said it was worried by structural faults in some of the ships and had long since sold its Capesize vessels, even though they were only a decade or so old.
Close inspection of ships as young as this has led to the discovery of cracks and structural faults, according to Sir William Codrington, director for safety and environmental affairs at World-Wide.