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Petroplus refinery set to close after court ruling

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Petroplus refinery set to close after court ruling
Workers outside the Petroplus oil plant during a day of action in March, 2013. Photo: Charly Triballeau/AFP
10:21 CEST+02:00
The French Petoplus refinery looks set to shut down, after 85 years of operating, after a commercial court rejected last-ditch bids to rescue it, saying that the proposed business plans were not robust enough.

"Unfortunately, the investors have not been able to eliminate all the ambiguities and doubts in the offers. As a consequence, the court had no choice but to reject the offers presented today," works committee lawyer Jean-Pierre Valentin told reporters on Tuesday.

The Petit-Couronne refinery said in a statement that lay-offs of the 470 staff would start "in the coming days".

The medium-sized plant in Normandy has been under pressure to find a new proprietor for more than a year after its Swiss owner Petroplus filed for bankruptcy in January 2012.

Placed under insolvency administration in October, it had become a symbol of France's struggle to try to keep industrial sites running in the face of a stagnant economy and stiff global competition.

Several unions had raised the possibility of nationalization for the Petroplus site in recent months, but the government has said it would only be prepared to take a minority stake alongside a buyer with a firm base in the sector.

In a statement, Industrial Renewal Minister Arnaud Montebourg and Labour Minister Michel Sapin said the government had "taken note" of the court's decision, and vowed to support the staff, while emphasizing that "all possible means" had been exhausted to try to find a buyer.

The statement added that "nothing could have been worse" than an unsustainable solution.

Outside the court, protesters cried "nationalization" and carried banners that read: "No to the death of refining".

Although dozens of smaller industry players had shown interest in buying the plant, none were able to present sufficient evidence that they had the capacity to turn it around and make it profitable again.

In desperate attempts to find a solid owner, the court had postponed the offer deadline a total of eight times.

The two final bids came from Panama-registered NetOil and Libya's Murzuq Oil.

None of the sector's key players, such as ExxonMobile, Total, BP or Shell made offers however, as margins within European refinery operations are considered to be low owing to fierce competition from imported products.

Yvon Scornet, spokesman for a joint union initiative, said "it takes €15 million-worth of crude oil per day to feed a refinery like ours and €400-500 million to make the necessary investments on the site".

Opened in 1929, the Petit-Couronne plant outside Rouen was sold to Petroplus in 2007 by Anglo-Dutch company Royal Dutch Shell.

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