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Last-ditch bid to rescue Swan Hunter: French company's main shareholder flies in to present proposals

SWAN HUNTER'S desperate struggle to survive hinges on a crucial meeting in private rooms at a London hotel at noon today.

Trade unions at the Tyneside shipbuilder have persuaded Iskandar Safa, the principal shareholder of Soffia, the French company that wants to buy the yard, to make a final attempt today to persuade the receiver to accept his rescue plan.

A spokesman for Price Waterhouse, receivers to the company, said officials from the Ministry of Defence would also be present. Representatives from Lloyds Bank, the principal creditor, may also be there.

Ed James and Ian Stokoe, of Price Waterhouse, will host the meeting and make a statement when it ends. However, they were not optimistic yesterday.

'The meeting might last 10 minutes or it might last two hours,' a spokesman said. 'We still want to get the best option for the yard. But our problem is we do have a legal obligation to creditors to obtain the best possible price.'

Mr Safa told the Press Association yesterday: 'We need to know if the receiver and Lloyds Bank are willing to enter into realistic negotiations to save Swan Hunter or whether they are already committed to liquidating the company.'

He added that Soffia had made a 'full and fair' offer for Swan Hunter, although there might be a possibility of structuring the offer differently to help the receiver.

Mr James has called the revised offer inadequate and said the receivers could raise more money by selling the assets. Soffia revised its original pounds 10m offer after Swan failed to win an important Ministry of Defence contract.

'We are prepared to support the Wallsend workforce by providing performance bonds to enable Swan Hunter to build up a workload and by funding the operation of the shipyard during 1995 and helping the receiver to restore the value of Swan Hunter to the level that it was in March,' Mr Safa said.

'This commitment for the supply of banking guarantees and interim financial support is naturally deducted from the price we discussed in March.'

Fred Henderson, chairman of Soffia's British arm, added: 'In March the receiver was seeking pounds 10m for the business assets and frigate contract. Now he has reduced the price to pounds 7.5m. The price we are offering for the assets and the frigate contract is very close to the receiver's new price.'