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NOL's Held let go as Hapag-Lloyd bid falters

Singapore: Neptune Orient Lines (NOL) today announced that its president and chief executive, Thomas Held (pictured), had resigned and will be replaced by Ron Widdows, head of its container shipping unit APL. The unexpected development occurred just as the battle for control for Hapag-Lloyd was expected to hot up, leading some observers to suggest NOL may now pull back from bidding for the German liner company amid staunch opposition in Hamburg to any overseas takeover.

"The Board of Directors feels that this is the right time for a change in the stewardship of the NOL Group, as it positions to grow in container shipping amidst the challenges of a cyclical industry sector, a slowing world economy and a tougher cost environment," said Cheng Wai Keung, chairman of NOL, which is 66% owned by Singapore sovereign wealth fund Temasek. "Ron Widdows is the right person to lead the company forward at this time," he added, in a statement released after trading closed on the Singapore Stock Exchange on Monday.

NOL was this month expected to make a $7 billion bid for Hapag Lloyd, the shipping arm of Germany's powerful TUI group. However, a rival Hamburg consortium is keen to retain German ownership of Hapag-Lloyd and over the weekend the German government came out as supporting a domestic solution. "The German government welcomes the efforts of the Hamburg investors and the Hamburg Senate to keep the shipping firm anchored in Germany," Dagmar Woehrl, the government's coordinator for the maritime economy was quoted as saying in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper on Saturday.  [07/07/08]

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