Anger over Romanian ships sell-off: Foreign company 'getting control of strategic fleet for a pittance'

THE ROMANIAN government yesterday came under renewed criticism over plans to sell a controlling stake in the country's largest merchant shipping company to a relatively small Greek shipping concern.

In a scathing editorial the Evenimentul Zilei newspaper declared: 'With the connivance of government officials a foreign company is getting control of Romania's strategic fleet for a pittance.' Calling for heads to roll, other commentators described the proposed sell-off variously as incompetent, corrupt or even a case of sabotage, and urged parliament to intervene to stop the deal.

The fury of the onslaught prompted some to speculate that the government might yet renege on the hastily concluded agreement to sell a 51 per cent stake in the Petromin shipping fleet to the Greek Forum Maritime company.

With more than 100 vessels, mainly used for transporting oil and minerals along the River Danube, Petromin is the largest of Romania's three state- owned shipping companies and a strategically important player in the country's overall economy.

The prospect that it could fall into foreign hands has enraged critics, as has the proposed sale price of dollars 335m (pounds 228m) - which they say is well below the scrap metal value of the ships.

On Thursday President Ion Iliescu defended the deal on the grounds that Petromin was on the brink of bankruptcy and its only hope of survival lay in a buyout. He described the deal as a joint venture and argued that, as the company would still be based and registered in Romania and would mainly be employing Romanians, it did not involve a surrender of control to foreign interests.

His statement was hardly enough to silence the critics, many of whom are convinced that the proposed sale has been masterminded by corrupt officials out to make a killing - and that the President himself may even be implicated.

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