From telex boy to magnate

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The Independent Online
John Fredriksen, the Norwegian owner of the Sea Empress, got his big break in the 1980s. He was willing to send ships to the Persian Gulf at the height of the Iran-Iraq war when few others would.

He has never been welcome at the tables of the great and good of Oslo's shipping magnates. He's not that bothered. His net worth is between pounds 200m and pounds 300m. His private table at the renowned Theater Cafeen in Oslo - where Norway's artists meet Norway's money - is known, appropriately, as "Kharg Island". Although shy personally, Fredriksen has an aggressive business style which has yielded homes in Cyprus, where he also has business interests, London, Oslo and Spain. He has come a long way from his humble beginnings as a 16-year-old telex assistant.

He worked his way up to shipping broker and in the late 1980s started owning and operating ships, some of which he sent to the Gulf.

But this is only part of the reason he has never joined Norway's shipping aristocracy. According to shipping sources in Norway, there is also the matter of four months spent in jail in 1986 during an investigation into fraud.

There were allegations of insurance fraud and claims oil cargo was used illegally. Fredrikson took refuge at a colleague's home before giving himself up to the police. The allegations against him were never proved, despite a lengthy investigation.

His peers regarded him with a new respect in the early 1990s when he tightened up his management procedures and got rid of his old ships. He ordered eight huge VLTC supertankers: three of these have since been sold for a profit. He also ordered two smaller ships, one of which was the Sea Empress.

Lately, Mr Fredriksen has become "bored" with shipping, according to a Norwegian industry source. In the search for quicker, better profits he has diversified into gas and chemical tankers. He has also built two oil rigs, one of which he hopes will be used in UK oil fields.

Ironically, the Sea Empress disaster has brought him a new-found respect in his homeland. Editorials in Norway's national newspapers this week have praised him for his responsible handling of the tragedy.

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