Britain’s oldest shipping company Stephenson Clarke has gone into liquidation after 282 years of trading
Britain’s oldest shipping company has sunk into liquidation after 282 years of trading – the latest victim of a global slowdown in the movement of “dry” bulk goods such as grain and iron ore.
Stephenson Clarke, which was established in 1730 to carry coal from Durham to London, had earlier sold ships to cut costs in the face of plummeting world freight rates.
“Whilst previous economic downturns have been weathered, the current market is one of the worst experienced for many years with no upturn forecast for at least 12 to 18 months,” said a company spokesman.
But industry experts said Stephenson Clarke sowed some of the seeds of its own demise by investing late in new tonnage to take advantage of China’s industrialisation programme which had spawned the biggest boom in shipping history.
The new vessels arrived just as China’s boom slowed down and a liquidator, Tait Walker, was appointed earlier this month to handle the problems at the shipowner.
Richard Fulford Smith, a director of the shipbroker Platou in London, said the demise of Stephenson Clarke was a sad day for a once proud ship-owning nation. He pointed out that the more glittering names of the domestic industry such as Cunard and P&O had been saved only by foreign ownership.
But it is not only smaller companies such as Stephenson Clark that have had financial problems as a result of the slowdown in the industry. John Fredriksen, regarded as the world’s leading independent shipowner, recently had to pump $500m of his own fortune into his Frontline tanker company to keep it afloat.
But the Norwegian has since unveiled controversial plans to start buying at a time when shipbuilders are desperate for orders. Fulford Smith said in a perfect world Stephenson Clarke would be doing the same.