UK seeks right to investigate £4.8bn hostile Carnival bid for P&O Princess

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The Independent Online

The Government stepped in yesterday to ask the European Commission to refer a hostile £4.8bn takeover offer from Carnival Corporation, the world's biggest cruise ship operator, for P&O Princess Cruises to the UK competition authorities.

If Brussels grants the request from the Department of Trade and Industry, the move will bring Carnival's bid under the same regulatory scrutiny as a rival £5.2bn merger plan between Princess and Royal Caribbean.

John Vickers, the director-general of Fair Trading, said Carnival's offer appeared "to raise competition concerns in the UK in relation to supply of cruise holidays which warrant further investigation". Observers said Carnival, which is run by the Florida-based billionaire Micky Arison, could be ordered to sell Cunard Line, the owner of the QE2.

The European Commission has until 16 April to decide whether to hand over full control of the investigation to the UK authorities, just part of it, or to run the investigation from Brussels.

Princess's shareholders last month voted to delay an extraordinary meeting called to approve the merger with Royal Caribbean to allow regulators in the UK, Europe and the US to assess both takeover proposals.

Separately, the Competition Commission has set a two-week deadline for interested parties to lodge concerns about the proposed tie-up with Royal.