Seaham Harbour sold to Victoria Group in deal brokered by Clearwater

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Seaham Harbour Dock Company, the integrated cargo handling, warehousing and distribution facility, has been sold by 3i, Europe’s leading venture capitalist company to the Plymouth-based Victoria Group in a multi-million pound deal which has been structured, led and arranged by Clearwater Corporate Finance plc.

The deal will see Victoria Group capitalise on the significant growth and development opportunities including further land development and property development and increased trade through the Port. Its North East location will also provide Victoria Group with an excellent pathway into the increasingly important Baltic trade routes.

The Victoria Group, whose principal owner is Mark Gatehouse, comprises two companies, Victoria Wharf and Sharpness Dock. Sharpness Dock contains two trading ports; Sharpness Dock (based in Gloucestershire) and Mersey Wharf (based in Liverpool).

Durham Port Holdings (DPHL), is the holding company for Seaham Harbour Dock Company (SHDC) and Anglo Shipping Services Limited (Anglo), which provides ship broking, shipping agency and forwarding services. DPHL was formed in 1996 as the vehicle to acquire SHDC from Anglo United plc in a management buy-out led by Mervyn Blades and backed by 3i who are now making a complete exit from their investment.

Mervyn Blades, current managing director of Seaham Dock Harbour Company commented; “This is the next natural step for the business. We successfully made the transition from a Port that offered warehousing to a comprehensive distribution centre with a Port attached. With the relocation and opening of CargoDurham in September 2002 and now as part of a larger Group we have access to greater resources that will accelerate the growth of the business much quicker than would have otherwise been possible.”

During the last two years, the County Durham based Seaham Harbour Dock Company, has undergone a £10 million investment in the relocation of the majority of the port’s operations to a purpose built facility, adjacent to the original site in Seaham.

CargoDurham distribution centre is the product of this investment, effected through a land purchase/exchange agreement between DPHL and One North East, which completed in September 2002. The business is seen as a key player in land re-development in the town of Seaham.

It has an ideal location midway between Tyneside and Teeside on the A19 trunk road. Its purpose built, covered rail terminal is 400 metres from the Tyne/Tees main line and has a new, high quality, uniquely designed warehouse and is also directly linked to the Port.

The Port now handles between 500,000 and 600,000 tonnes of mixed cargoes across the quays each year and has 900 metres of quays and handles ships up to 6,000 tonnes.

Paul Jones, partner and Jane Mercer, deal leader with Clearwater Corporate Finance plc led, structured and arranged the deal. Jones commented; “This is a great deal for the business, its shareholders and the new owners, Victoria Group. The shareholders are achieving their exit following the successful relocation to Cargo Durham whilst Victoria Group, who have three port operations in Plymouth, Sharpness and Liverpool are increasing their regional coverage. It’s a natural fit which should also provide enhanced development opportunities in and around Seaham.”

Andrew Garside, 3i director said; “We have had a strong involvement with the business since our original backing in 1997, which has also included introducing a new chairman to the board. With their new facilities the port is well placed to compete for business and we wish the business well in the future.”

Seaham Harbour Dock Company was advised by Ward Hadaway, which had a team of four working on the deal. Paul Christian, partner in the corporate finance team at the North East law firm, commented; “The development and growth of the integrated import/export distribution centre at Seaham has been well documented – one of the reasons being that its success is vital to the regeneration of the local area.

“Victoria Group, with its sister ports and extensive industry experience, looks set to build on the success of the current management team, placing the area in an even stronger position. It has been a real pleasure to work on a transaction of this size that will have a very positive impact for the region.”

Addleshaw Goddard (Paul Elliot) in Leeds were the legal advisers to 3i.

Financial advisers to the purchaser were Plymouth-based Mark Holt & Co Ltd (Mark Holt and Mark Whittaker) with legal advice provided by Gill Akaster of Plymouth (Hugh Michelmore, Emma Heavey and Paul Johnson).