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Chiquita moves to reassure customers admid Eastwind bankruptcy

FRUIT giant Chiquita has moved quickly to reassure US and European customers that its banana supply chain will “continue uninterrupted”, despite Eastwind Maritime filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In a statement from its US headquarters, Chiquita Brands International said that the filing by Eastwind and certain of its affiliates “does not adversely affect service to Chiquita’s customers and the delivery of its bananas and other fresh fruit products”. It added: “All of the 12 oceangoing ships that the company sold in 2007 remain under long-term charter to Chiquita, including the four ships sold to Eastwind.” Chiquita senior vice-president Waheed Zaman said: “We are taking appropriate steps to protect Chiquita’s interests under these long-term charters. “While Chiquita’s shipping operations represent only a comparatively small part of Eastwind’s business, we have been monitoring developments closely and are working with the other parties involved in the chartering relationships to help assure ongoing and timely service to our customers.” In May 2007, Chiquita completed the sale 12 refrigerated cargo vessels for $227m. The ships were chartered back from an alliance formed by Eastwind Maritime and the then NYKLauritzenCool, now NYKCool. At that time, the parties entered a long-term strategic agreement in which the alliance would serve as Chiquita’s preferred supplier in ocean shipping to and from Europe and North America. The eight NYKCool reefer vessels — serving the European market — are unconnected with the Eastwind bankruptcy and are sailing as normal. The four affected Eastwind container vessels, which serve the eastern US and Gulf markets, continue to sale as scheduled. A spokesman for Chiquita said: “We are very pleased with the shipping arrangements, and the long term charters remain in place and are being honoured. “There is no impact on our services and we are talking to the new owners of the Eastwind vessels.” Meanwhile, Nordea executive vice-president Hans Kjelsrud said that the bank exercised its pledge over shares in Eastwind companies, which permitted the sale of 13 vessels to a company associated with
the Ofer family, as a “last resort” following a breach of the company’s loan agreement. “There comes a point at which the bank has to protect its own position with an action of last resort,” he said. “It is not an action the bank likes to take but when you have explored and exhausted all the alternatives there is no other option.” He added: “We are a big bank and we work pro-actively with clients. But when the situation deteriorates at the company and industry level we have to be pro-active in finding a solution that is best for all parties.” Additional reporting by Tony Gray

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