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French company to buy Aker's deepwater unit

Catching offshore observers by surprise, the flamboyant financier Kjell Inge Røkke has completed negotiations for the sale of Aker Maritime's deep-sea business for about USD 620 million (NOK 5.9 billion) to Coflexip Stena Offshore of France. The sale is a major blow to Norwegian hopes of creating a global offshore services powerhouse with roots in Norway.

Earlier this year, Røkke turned down a bid by his Norwegian rival, Kværner ASA, to buy Aker Maritime, calling it insufficient. Later he purchased a large block of Kværner stock options in an apparent bid for control of both companies. But conflicts between the Aker and Kværner leaders run deep. Røkke's backers insist that the deepwater sale to Coflexip -- at a price higher than Kværner had offered for all of Aker Maritime's activities -- proves that Kværner's original takeover plan was both stingy and poorly conceived. On the other hand, Kværner Chairman Christian Bjelland said Røkke's plan to sell the highly respected deepwater unit while retaining less promising parts of the business exposes him as a short-term raider rather than the industrialist he claims to be. "If Aker Maritime sells its deep-sea business," Bjelland said, "then the industrial vision that Kjell Inge Røkke likes to hide behind is no more than fiction."