Creditors are seeking at least US$60 million from Grand China Shipping (Hong Kong), a Hong Kong-registered shipping subsidiary of HNA Group, a leading mainland company which has financier George Soros as a shareholder.
Legal sources said the total amount, which includes unpaid charter hire and ship broker commissions on ships leased by the firm, would climb as creditors lodged proofs of debt to support their claims.
Hong Kong law firms acting on behalf of creditors include Laracy & Co, Howse Williams Bowers and Holman Fenwick Willan.
Damien Laracy, a principal of Laracy & Co, said the firm was acting on behalf of three creditors, while Chris Howse, a partner in Howse Williams Bowers, said the firm represented "some" creditors.
Legal sources said Holman Fenwick Willan represented Shagang Shipping, the mainland shipping firm that made the winding-up petition against Grand China and forced it into liquidation, although HFW would not confirm its involvement.
Shagang Shipping, an offshoot of the steelmaker Jiangsu Shagang Group, decided to make a winding-up application against Grand China after winning a US$58 million arbitration in London over unpaid charter hire on a massive 180,000 dwt iron ore and coal carrier leased to Grand China.
The provisional liquidator, Daniel Wong Sun-keung, from accountancy firm Vision, is assessing how much money is available to pay creditors.
"There is a small amount in the bank and trade receivables," Wong said after meeting management and legal representatives from Grand China yesterday.
He expected the first creditors' meeting to be held by the middle of June, although creditors could lodge claims after the meeting.
Wong said Grand China "is not a shipowner". Instead, the company had 10 dry cargo bulk carriers that were chartered or sub-chartered to other operators.
As a result, creditors could be forced to take legal action against HNA and other companies in the group, which include Hong Kong Airlines and Hainan Airlines, if they want to pursue their claims.
However, legal sources said it would be almost impossible to claim against other companies within HNA unless these firms guaranteed or indemnified debts incurred by Grand China.
Legal action against Grand China had been building for months, sources said. Claims had been pursued in US courts, with other HNA subsidiaries named as co-defendants.