Vafias “more conservative”

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Harry Vafias has suggested his publicly-quoted vehicle StealthGas will adopt a conservative approach to expansion over the next 12 months because of the effects of the credit crunch but has not ruled out a foray into the larger tanker sector should market conditions be right.

Speaking to SMI, the StealthGas boss said he was not happy with his company’s fleet balance at the moment and was in favour of adding more tankers possibly at the expense of some of his gas fleet.

Harry Vafias confirmed that StealthGas had added a third MR product tanker to his fleet. Recent press reports suggested that StealthGas paid $57.5m for the 47,000-dwt vessel which is being built in South Korea.

He told SMI: “I am more optimistic about the larger ships in the medium term, suezmaxes and VLCCs, but at the moment prices are way too expensive and we will not go for those unless we see some softening in prices or some increase in rates in order to justify the very firm prices.”

He added: “The StealthGas fleet is 50 ships out of which only three are tankers. It is not balanced: I am not saying we will get to a point where it is 25:25 because that is impossible but if I can get to the point where the fleet is made up of five, six or seven tankers and 40 LPGs then it starts to become more balanced. At the moment, three tankers cannot support 47LPGs,” he said.

He said: “At the moment we are quite under leveraged, actually the shareholders are complaining that we are under leveraged and they don’t like it that we are too conservative which is a good thing for us and the banks but is not good for shareholders but we are not in a hurry.

“The credit crunch is not over yet. I think that in the next 12 months there will be a lot of bad news still to come from the banks, and especially the American banks, and so we do not want to stretch our balance sheet too much because there may be opportunities in a year to 18 months time. If we overstretch now, we will not be able to act quickly then. So we will be taking conservative steps for the next 12 months and that is the same for other companies too,” he added.

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