Ari Onassis was a business partner but above all a very good friend of mine for many years until his death in 1975. It was great to know him and fantastic to be involved in his odyssey and contributes to build his empire. There are so many things that are said about Ari and by creating this blog I want to reflect the reality about him to make sure his memory is not stained by gossiping people that don't know anything about him. You can also view my website:

Friday, September 28, 2007

Christina Onassis business handover

These are dicey times for shipowners who play that gambler's game called tankers. As a result of the slowdown in the growth of petroleum consumption and some reckless overbuilding by shipyards in the early 1970s, the tanker business is in the worst depression in memory. Fully 10% of the world fleet sits idle for lack of cargo.
In short, it should be no trade for a tyro, even an attractive girl of 26 who happened to wind up controlling one of the world's largest privately owned fleets. So how is Christina Onassis doing in her first job? At the very least, the willful and somewhat impetuous only surviving child of the great Golden Greek, Aristotle Onassis, who died in March 1975, has given the shipping world some surprises. At first, the closely knit Greek shipping fraternity expected her to steer clear of the business altogether. Then, when she asserted her rights as beneficiary of 47.5% of her father's 50-ship fleet of supertankers, bulk carriers and smaller vessels, and made known her intention to manage the business herself, folks wondered whether the fleet could survive the experience.
So far, the record is fairly positive.
The Onassis fleet remains not only profitable, by most accounts, but has also been updated. Ten aging vessels have been sold; contracts for four new supertankers, which Ari had unwisely ordered before the collapse of the market, have been canceled. A clever deal is in the works in which the Onassis group is expected to buy two supertankers from
Texaco in return for that company's promise to charter two even larger Onassis ships at a later date. Most important, Christina is bringing new blood into a firm long dominated by sawy-but-aging Onassis advisers in their 60s and 70s. In June she hired Louis Anderson, 48, a Greek American who had run Exxon's marine operations since 1970, to boss Olympic Maritime S.A., the Onassis fleet's operational brain center, which is headquartered in a three-story building in Monte Carlo.
Some observers say Christina seems to be wearying of it all and that Anderson, highly regarded in the industry, will become the real power behind the throne. But Onassis staffers insist that Christina means to stay in charge. She presides at management meetings hi Monte Carlo and often visits Onassis offices in London, Athens and Manhattan. Says Constantino Gratsos, 75, elder statesman of the Onassis enterprises: "Not a single decision of substance gets by without Christina's approval."
Clitics say the firm's traditionally offhand style has deteriorated into indecisiveness under Christina's helmsmanship. Complains a French banker: "She can't concentrate. She'll really get into a subject, but then her mind will get onto something else. She has no follow-through." But others point out that nothing much has really changed, and that Ari himself was a notorious dilly-dallier who would often seem to agree on a deal only to back down at the last moment.
Christina is certainly no yes-woman. Case in point: Onassis oldtimers believe that tanker ownership will never become the money spinner it once was, and they have urged her to diversify. A year after Ari died, the firm had some odd luck that could have helped such an effort. On its maiden voyage, Olympic Bravery, an expensive new supertanker for which the group had been unable to find cargoes, was wrecked off France's Brittany coast, yielding a $50 million insurance settlement and saving the company an estimated $800,000 a month in costs on the vessel.
But instead of diversifying, Christina last winter paid $27 million for a two-month-old, similar-sized and also unchartered tanker owned by the American sea lord Daniel Ludwig. She promptly renamed it the Aristotle S. Onassis. Said a bemused ship broker: "I don't get it. They climbed out of the hole, then climbed right back into it. That ship is a guaranteed money loser."
Others point out that the ship changed hands at little more than half its original price and that if world demand for oil grows even moderately in the next year or two, the vessel could begin earning profits. Says Manhattan Ship Broker Basil Mavroleon: "Christina is extremely bright. The deal could turn out to be a lot smarter than anyone thinks. She is making the same bet her father did, but she is having to ante up only half as much."
Christina might have chosen to enjoy the less-complicated items left to her in her father's will—including her annual $250,000 lifetime annuity, control of Ari's 325-ft. yacht, Christina, and the Skorpios island retreat. Over the years she has had other concerns besides ships: her own two short-lived marriages; the sudden deaths of her mother and her aunt, both of whom were once married to Onassis' archrival Stavros Niarchos; and the death of her older brother Alexander hi a plane crash two years before her father died. Says a family confidant: "Anyone who can go through all that and come out swinging has got to be solid." With the outlook for tanker ownership as bleak as it is, she will need more than just determination to hold together the fleet that her flamboyant father built.
"I christen thee Olympic Bravery," cried Christina Onassis, as she smashed a bottle of champagne last October against the blunt bow of the first giant tanker to be delivered to the Onassis fleet since she took over its management after the death of her father, Aristotle Onassis. The 275,000-ton ship, which earlier had undergone successful sea trials, headed from Brest on her maiden voyage on Jan. 24 and ran into a sudden squall. Then the ship's engines inexplicably quit, leaving it to drift in 60-m.p.h. gusts; the 30-man crew dropped two anchors but the anchor chains snapped. So the voyage covered only about 35 miles, ending against the rocks of the island of Ushant. There the tanker rests, sinking slowly as water seeps in through gashes torn in her hull by the rocks. Last week the Onassis group began final attempts to refloat the tanker; if they fail the ship will be declared a total loss.
A disaster? For Lloyd's of London and other insurers, certainly: the $50 million insurance money that they stand to pay to Olympic Maritime S.A. would be the largest insurance payoff in maritime history (previous record: $27 million). For Christina Onassis, hardly. The Olympic Bravery had been headed only for expensive unemployment. Its maiden voyage had been destined to end in a Norwegian fjord, where it was to join at least 385 other supertankers lying idle round the world, waiting for oil shipments to pick up. Potential mothballing costs: as much as $20,000 a day. The insurance payment would enable Christina to pay off the ship's $42 million mortgage and recoup most of the $10 million her father laid out as a down payment. Given the depressed state of the tanker market, Olympic Bravery would fetch between $20 million and $25 million—if a buyer could be found.
The Onassis fleet has had an excellent safety record in the past, and there is no question that Lloyd's will pay. Says a Lloyd's spokesman: "Our check is already drawn up and waits only for signature."

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