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The Guardian from London, Greater London, England • Page 24
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The Guardian from London, Greater London, England • Page 24

The Guardiani
London, Greater London, England
Issue Date:
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24 I FINANCE AND ECONOMICS The Guardian Saturday October 25 1997 1 Olympic Metro shakes the ancients got their dream-ticket excavation. At 69,000 square metres it is a dig of unprecedented dimensions. I. Down to zero The Sea Empress sheds her load of oil on the Welsh coast near Milford Haven, devastating wildlife, Volatile Viking of and owner John Fredriksen, below photograph: barry batchelor shipping 1 'owfsr 1 Helena Smith in Athens THE Greeks have been told that Pericles may soon have to shake a little in the name of progress. If the Athens Metro company has its way, the golden age statesman will be one of many who will have to endure trains passing under his grave.

The idea that the foundations of democracy should be so rudely rocked has sparked uproar. How, cry archaeologists, can works on the capital's long-awaited new subway system be allowed to destroy the Kerameikos cemetery, one of antiquity's greatest sites? Is it right, after all, that a line be constructed beneath the resting place of the immortals? Doesn't Pericles deserve better than to vibrate in peace? The fracas does not look as if it is going to calm down. In fact, as metro workers prepare to dig a test tunnel under the site, it shows every sign of getting worse. For their part, five years after digging began, Athenians are beginning to wonder whether they are every going to get a real taste of the Underworld. In the long and stormy history of European Union transport projects, there are few that have gone off the rails quite so much.

From its inception, the 1.7 billion Athens Metro project, one of the largest public works undertaken on the European mainland and the largest-ever in Greece, was being hailed by mandarins in Brussels for its ability to break records. As a result of EU munificence and vital loans from the European Investment Bank, the project's primary financiers, archaeologists 32Mb RAM 32Mb RAM enhances Ihe perlormance ol this system, allows smooth multi-tasking and means that this T66M-2 system with MMX Technology oul performs our 16Mb 233M systems 4.3Gb Ultra ATA Hard Disk This massive 4 3Gb unit gives you oil the storage you are ever likely to need Fas! Ultra ATA interlace improves perlormance Do not consider anything less than 4 3Gb 64-blt 4Mb Graphics SIS advanced graphics using upto 4Mb RAM together with crisp sharp screens provide the ideal display Speech Recognition IBM Simply Speaking GOLD voice recognition software is preloaded and together wilh optional microphone allows you to command many PC functions end diclale virtually into any Windows 95 undervalued." His nose for a bargain is one of the factors behind rumours that George Tycoon John Fredriksen is riding high. Lisa Buckingham and Mark Milner chart his progress When the trains are finally trundling along the network's 21 kilometres of lines, officials claim it will remove some 250,000 smog-belching cars from the streets another record. But it seems that the real record lies in the excruciating delay of the project. At an exorbitant rate of 450,000 of taxpayers' money a day, time has rarely been so costly.

"It started with a turnkey completion date of 1996, then we were told it would be operating by next month, and now it's 2001," huffed Dimi-tris Anagnostopoulos, a local transport expert. "No one believes it. We'll be lucky to have part of the subway in operation by the time Athens stages the Olympics in 2004." The Greeks have looked on with dismay at the havoc wrought by Olympic Metro, a consortium of 25 Greek, German and French firms building the system. This month, in full view of television cameras and pedestrians, a huge tunnel-boring machine swallowed up large chunks of Athens' main avenue. As the earth opened up above it, a roadside kiosk whose owner, mercifully, was not inside disappeared into the cavity.

That was after scores of residents had been relocated from apartment blocks that had begun to list dangerously in other parts of the capital. In an attempt to allay public fears, the environment minister, Costas La-liotis, announced last week that 60 per cent of the project was complete, assimilating 62 per cent of its original budget. But if the delays continue, officials estimate that the work will have exceeded its initial price-tag three times over. Angry archaeologists already claim that building a station near the cemetery has destroyed a thousand ancient graves. The government recently agreed to abandon using a tunnel-boring machine on the Kerameikos line.

Olympic Metro has been told it must resort to more conventional methods such as the hand and spade. PC OffiCCS? Interest FREE Credit itk IttU 3 fttwtalflamauNnCMkr'tlll -JMWH PT Ji t'Oe ranOVI Wfilrxlltnn0tNJ lo py lw fl morw Afiw 8 mum pty lr iw usti itm tnaiMn vat VAT AfB OV ontf kMfl fiiff OM) Mfwi fl iWW Fmnc (MO (MC turn Vnjm loa ol IS tmti II WH Fnm a tubpa miiu Wtin MM ji. Soros another seeker of undervalued assets has be come interested in Fredriksen's business. The ICB takeover scrap where Fredriksen has 51 per cent of the shares but only 31 per cent of the votes and is attempting to frustrate the AngelicoussisICB grouping or force it to the negotiating table is not his first brush with controversy. In fact, the man has rarely been far from the eye of speculation, not least because he has only recently emerged from a life conducted under an almost total news blackout.

He attracted the envy of rivals after emerging from the Iran-Iraq war with an extremely large fortune from running tankers backwards and forwards in the war zone to the huge oil port at Kharg Island. So close did this association become that Fredriksen's table in his favourite Oslo restaurant, the Thea-tercafeen, became known as Kharg Island. But that wealth was tainted with accusations that his tankers had used the cargo oil to burn as fuel and Fredriksen ended up for weeks behind bars while the allegations were investigated. He was never charged and denied the accusations. But he did admit the ships had burned slops, although he always maintained that he had received permission from his classification society which gives ships their equivalent of MOT certificates for this rather unorthodox behaviour.

Fredriksen is, however, known as an outsider. The son of a welder, he became a shipbroker when he was just 16 and fairly shortly afterwards had developed the confidence to back his deals with his own money. "By Norwegian standards he was born on the wrong side of the 'You could in a tin hat horns on 24 MAX CD High performance 24 Max CO drive deliver twice the maimum perlormance ol 12 MAX CD drives and allows programs to run and load fasler 3D Wavetable Sound ESS 3D Wavetable stereo sound Aith 3D effects and software wavetable synthesis for Ihe best quality 166-M2 MMX' Processor The I66M-2 system outperforms our 200 and Intel 166MHz Pentium processur system with MMX technology The advanced 200M-2 and 233M systoms deliver the highest performance JD'L ft St Is PiiPifliiili Interest Option (lm FREE application! The Best Deal! Interest FREE This amazing high specification MMX could be the early seventies all over again: giant tankers thundering down the richest oil routes in the world, rak ing in tens of thousands of dollars a day and turning their owners into billionaires, For the first time since the hey-day of the so-called "golden Aristotle Onassis and Stavros Niar-chos, tanker shipping is again becoming associated with stu pendous wealth rather than environmental disaster. John Fredriksen, the rug ged Norwegian currently locked in a titanic struggle for a place at the top table of tanker shipping, spans both. It was Fredriksen's Sea Empress which was responsible for one of the worst oil spills off the British coast in recent years.

The ship was relatively new and had cost $60 million. Human error was blamed for the oil spill near Milford Haven that eliminated great swathes of wildlife. Fredriksen's immediate emotional response was to threaten to quit the tanker market. Aides said he did not sleep for days while the affair was headline news. But tanker dealing had been his life since he was a teenager and these ocean-going colossi had delivered him a fortune.

Hard-headedness swiftly exerted its influence. After all, colleagues said, he was not likely to leave the market just as the rainbow's end was in sight for the long-suffering tanker business. Rates for very large and ultra large crude carriers the biggest tankers of more than 200,000 deadweight tonnes are at record levels. A charter rate has been fixed at Worldscale 100, a psychologically crucial benchmark worth $60,000 of revenue a day, which has not been seen for the best part of 25 years. Fredricksen, a bull of a man with an uncanny resemblance to Hollywood tough guy, Ernest Borgnine, has been immersed in the business for all that time.

And despite the huge troughs of the tanker market rates were $8,000 a day three years ago he has made himself a fortune while avoiding any taint of substandard or cost-cutting operations. Nor has he fallen out of favour with his lenders. His determination to climb to the top of the tanker industry tree involved the acquisition of Frontline and London and Overseas Freighters, both of which were quoted companies and gave him access to new finance from a range of shareholders, notably in New York. But the real power of his punch has been seen in the current battle for ICB, a large Swedish tanker owner, which has exercised a poison pill and brought in John Angeli-coussis, a white knight from the powerful London-based Greek shipping community. "Fredriksen has been wrong-footed by Angelicous-sis, but he is not going away," said one observer.

"It is probably right to say he is ruthless and his tactics in this battle have certainly pulled no punches but, in ICB, he did spot a company which was I OfficeStation97 166M-2 'k MJLg7j fl "El see him with the side- system comes with the latest ATX specifications including high performance I66M-2 processor from IBM with MMX technology, 32Mb RAM, fast 4.3Gb Ultra ATA hard disk, 24 MAX CD, 3D Wavetable sound, SIS 4Mb advanced graphics, 512k burst cache and full multimedia. The system comes complete with Microsoft Office 97 at a sensational price of jusl 899 VAT. Pay under 109 deposit and nothing more for 6 months interest free! For even higher specification take a look at our 200M, 200M-2 and 233M XL Interest Free OfficeStation systems which also include 56k voice modems, video conferencing recieve, massive 64Mb RAM (200M-2 233M) and more. Order any of these systems early and also receive additional preloaded software with over 10 titles and IBM voicetype Simply Speaking COLD (limited offer). All systems are available on 6 months Interest Free Credit Option! driksen "outsources to an extensive degree." The entire business is run by 16 people in Oslo, all of whom are "well taken care of by the boss.

Married, although his wife now lives in Marbella with their children. Fredriksen makes no secret of his desire to stride alongside independent tanker giants like Berge-sen and World-Wide of Hong Kong. Although there are stories of Fredriksen expecting the maitre d' of top restaurants to respond to a cursory click of his fingers, friends say he does not flaunt his wealth. He may have a yacht-. but only a little one.

He does, however, respond to the deal. But he is not the only big player at work in today's tanker market. Possibly an even more spectacular gamble is being taken by Fred Cheng's Golden Ocean group which has ordered so many big, new vessels that it accounts for something like 25 per cent of the world's entire Very Largo Crude Carrier order book. But the Norwegian tycoon was not about to fall behind by letting a good deal pass by just because his attention was focused on the ICB takeover battle. Last month he acquired six of the world's biggest tankers including the mammoth Hellas Fos, longer than four football pitches and reckoned to be the largest ever built.

His reputation is growing so fast that industry speculation is now ready to link him to almost all the major plays in the market. He reckons the tanker boom has several years yet still to run. But he has spoken recently of retirement, even though he is only in his mid-50s. He may have taken his time to emerge from the shadows of shipping, but few expect him to disappear back into obscurity too soon. shipping magnates, Fredriksen does not love ships and this helps him keep a clear head.

"I think he's probably only been on a few of them," said an employee. "He'll sell them as soon as he needs to." He is a deal maker and while that has centred on tankers, he has also made a killing on oil rigs and other ships. Stories ol nis money-making skills abound. There is the tale of the Emerald Pro ducer, an oil rig he picked up for a reputed $30 million cash while others were still considering the deal. He chartered it to Texaco and the rig is now reckoned to be worth five or six times the price paid.

"He has got a wonderful nose for a shipping opportunity. He BBBH nas never 'et a bank down and he has been in business for 30 years. Though he has done some deals which have been marginal in terms of their return, I don't think he has got anything wrong," said a shipping industry executive. This does not necessarily hold good in his business relationships, where he has a reputation for falling out with his closest associates. "He is an earthy character.

He is a very, very hard player both commercially and socially. He does look like a Viking. You could see him in a tin hat with horns on the side," says one associate. But he does seem to have' the ability to select highly able aides such as his current lawyer and chief of staff, Tor Olav Troim. Most of Fredriksen's day-to-day operations are controlled by him from penthouse offices in Oslo.

Although a handful of employees are scattered around Europe in places such as Cyprus and Spain, aides say Fre IBM 6186MX PR166 Processor wilh MMX technology 32Mb EDO RAM Seagate 4 3Gb Ultra AJA haid disl- LG 24 MAX CD-ROM drive ESS 3D wavetable stereo sound 512k pipeline burst cache SIS 64-bit advanced graphics using 4Mb of system RAM MPEG Microsoft direel 3D support 9 Soundforco 525 main powotcd stereo speakers ATX midi toer design with ATX PC97 motherboard and 2 USB ports Speech recognition wilh IBM Simply Speaking GOLD preloaded 14" SVGA N1028dp colour screen VAT E81 06 and 17-C219 VAT -C25733 extia) Microsoft Oftice 97 bundle with printed manuals Additional preloaded software with Lotus Approach SmartPics, eMail. Quicken v5. IBM Antivirus. PtcasWotks. DesignWoiks Homewtse and more' All Slandard Features Windows 95 wilh manual CD.

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Others owned their ships. The traditional secrecy oi the shiDDine industry formed a useful screen to disguise the success of his activities. In the mid-sixties he moved to New York where aimosi anything was allowed so long as you made money. And the extent of the money Fredriksen made became clear in the seventies and eighties when hp. sDlashed out a stunning $1.5 billion on a tanker fleet.

But that massive invest ment was made just in time for one of the worst reces sions tne marKet nas seen, and Fredriksen himself accepts that he is lucky to have emerged relatively unscathed. His colleagues are quick to point out, however, that, unlike many putative LeisureEducation Pack Option Th InckJUn JOyVXi MciOfJloW md 10CO WW C0 WT-' 57M 6 Ohm Pack Option VWti PC including RAC Roily. FIFA 97. PGA Golf, Thome Hospital. Command Conquer and Magic Carpet 2 C39 VAT E45 83 product codo 999-30-330 Printer Option Epton Stylus 300 720dpi Colour Inkiet Printer C129 VAT 3 151 58 Select required PC cable 37 Time Showrooms Ayltiuir OtrtJj SMryn lAtibu'y Catguo SatM OiMtun auUHnil Snti'MnipW Ukn Hi ft Stntntq frvntwood rx) Sia Omlul Huntirtgda'l Sunnikm fr Ctmamg ipnxcn Tiwd CnM1 Mltanng Wnuilw DWfKMnrMm LoncMn Gttril COvoMry GIMflow OrWy orx Ptwkw DigtrAim PooM WHoid 'J 01Jtxj'nNow9pn Telephone Time Now 01282 777 111 Sales Lines Open: Monday Friday 8.3Oam-7.0Opm.

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