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Norwegian fleet to join Malta register

Oslo-based ship owner Wilh Wilhelmsen (WW) has decided not to enter Norway's new tonnage tax system and to list part of its new fleet on the Malta register. The company has 42 new vessels on order.

Chief financial officer Nils Petter Dyvik told The Sunday Times that the decision was both political and commercial. "It came as a result of our disbelief in a stable political environment in Norway when it comes to taxation of shipping companies," he said. "We think it's a wise decision."

The tax situation faced by ship owners in Norway has been under constant scrutiny for the last 10 years. "Based on our experience, we were fortunate to be able to choose whether or not to enter this new tax regime," Mr Dyvik added.

The decision does not affect the group's business: most of WW's vessels are already owned outside Norway. The new tax tonnage system in Norway is similar to that in Malta and other EU countries, like the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands, Greece and Cyprus.

"But we strongly believe that the Maltese government will create a much more stable environment in the future," Mr Dyvik pointed out. "We chose Malta because it is a small country with a flourishing shipping business. Malta wants to expand within the financial shipping sector, and this is excellent for its future growth. We believe that by protecting its tonnage tax system, Malta will support us as ship owners."

Asked whether the Malta operation will be used as a hub to service Europe, North Africa or other countries, Mr Dyvik said the company's already existing global operation would not change: "Our decision points towards the company's ship-owning business."

WW ( www.wilhelmsen.com ) operates 160 vessels, which will continue to operate globally: "What we are after is a domicile for new building contracts, which would then (involve) our Maltese ship-owning company. Ownership and business in Malta will grow as we expand," Mr Dyvik said.

Mr Dyvik was in Malta last week to meet Malta Maritime Authority officials. "The outcome of the meeting was positive, interesting and encouraging," he said. "It is important for us that Malta looks at shipping as an expanding business, is immensely supportive of the sector, and that the Malta flag will continue to be a quality flag. This is the reason behind our decision."

WW is involved in 38 trades. In the shipping sector, every year the company transports 5.3 million cars, five million cubic metres of 'high and heavy' (tractors and various agricultural machinery) and one million cubic metres of project cargo (static cargo). Turnover is $2.7 billion a year.

The company will take delivery of new vessels until 2012. "We are expanding and we believe in the future. The vessels that will fly the Malta flag are the biggest and most modern car and RoRo (roll-on, roll-off) ships, being able to carry up to 8,000 cars. So far, the decision has been for only some of these vessels to be owned through Malta," Mr Dyvik said.

"WW is now prepared to come to Malta to start up the process. It is imperative that we learn more about the Maltese workforce, because we believe it is important to use local people for our Malta operation."

WW is represented in Malta by Wilhelmsen Ships Service Malta Ltd.

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