Swiss firm Petroplus to sell French refinery

Swiss-based oil refiner Petroplus, nearly driven to bankruptcy after banks froze its credit lines, said on Friday it would sell its Petit Couronne refinery in north-western France.

Swiss firm Petroplus to sell French refinery
Mick Garratt (File)

The company said it is simultaneously studying “strategic alternatives” for its plants in Antwerp (Belgium) and Cressier (Switzerland), including their possible sale as it seeks to cope with a cash crunch.

“Petroplus intends to complete these processes in the coming months,” it said in a statement.

Petroplus, Europe’s largest independent oil refiner, recently announced it was to enforce a temporary halt at three of its refineries after banks froze a $1 billion credit facility.

The group said that the Cressier refinery was shut down, but there were strikes at Petit Couronne and Antwerp restricting operations.

Petroplus has two other refineries across Europe: Ingolstadt in Germany and in Britain at Coryton.

The French industry minister Eric Besson, interviewed on French radio station RTL, said the news was “not a surprise” since his ministry was in constant contact with the management and unions of Petroplus.

The Petit Couronne plant has 550 employees.

Credit ratings agency Standard and Poor’s on Tuesday downgraded its rating for Petroplus by three notches due to the increased risk of a default on its short-term debt.

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Libyan lifeline for bankrupt French oil plant

Bankruptcy administrators for the Petroplus oil refinery in Normandy have accepted bids from two firms to rescue the plant and have passed them on to a court, union sources said this week.

Libyan lifeline for bankrupt French oil plant
Workers outside the Petroplus oil plant during a day of action last month. Photo: Charly Triballeau/AFP

The bids from Panama-registered NetOil and Libya's Murzuq Oil are expected to be considered in the coming days, ahead of an April 16th deadline.

Unions representing the plant's 470 workers hailed the decision.

"This is very good news," said Jean-Luc Broute of the CGT union following a meeting of the plant's works council.

Two other bids, from Hong Kong-based Oceanmed Seasky System Limited and GTSA of Luxembourg, were rejected.

Opened in 1929, the refinery has struggled in recent years, with parent company Petroplus filing for bankruptcy in January 2012 and the plant placed under insolvency administration in October.

The fate of the plant has become a symbol of France's struggle to keep industrial sites running in the face of a stagnant economy and stiff global competition.