The debt woes of offshore marine giant Ezra Holdings reached fever pitch yesterday after it revealed that it had missed the deadline to settle a $4.4 million debt with Norwegian shipowner Forland Subsea.
The development puts the creditor at liberty to file for Ezra to be wound up in Singapore's High Court.
Ezra's failed joint venture company Emas Chiyoda Subsea (ECS) had defaulted on charter payments to Forland last year. Ezra, which guaranteed the contracts, is now taking the heat.
And that is just the tip of the iceberg. In total, Ezra is the guarantor of a whopping US$900 million (S$1.27 billion) of ECS' loans and liabilities, it said yesterday.
Although ECS filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States on Tuesday, the Chapter 11 application does not extend to its charter hire liabilities.
The Singapore court has granted a stay order for ECS and its five Singapore-incorporated subsidiaries to mirror the automatic stay in the US - which means that ECS is protected from its creditors here too.
But Ezra has not said that it will apply for any stay order for itself.
Ezra also has substantial contingent liabilities in relation to projects undertaken by ECS, which does engineering and construction work for oil and gas projects. These liabilities are not yet quantifiable, Ezra said.
Ezra, which is in the midst of restructuring its business, said it is continuing efforts to engage Forland. But if claims are made against it in relation to any of the guarantees, it will be faced with an immediate "going concern" issue.
Investors have been piling out of Ezra. Its shares plunged 0.4 cent or 21 per cent to a fresh low of 1.5 cents yesterday after a trading halt was lifted.
Nevertheless, some observers have said that Ezra may just be able to wiggle its way out of liquidation. In a statement to the Singapore Exchange on Feb 27, it announced that it had incorporated a new wholly-owned subsidiary, Ezra Holdings (NY), in the US with only 200 shares at a nominal issue price per share. Ezra has not explained what prompted it to create an American subsidiary at such a time.
Separately, Ezra said in a bourse filing yesterday that ECS trade creditor Necotrans Singapore is in the process of withdrawing its winding-up application filed against a unit of ECS in Singapore.
The Straits Times understands that although Necotrans did withdraw its application yesterday morning, about six other creditors were present at the hearing.
Among them was Keppel Shipyard, another ECS trade creditor, which wanted to be the substitute in the application to pursue the winding-up, but was disallowed this because of the stay order.
A full hearing for the stay order will take place on March 13, and creditors can oppose the stay then.
According to court documents, ECS' largest creditors include DBS Bank and OCBC Bank, with unsecured claims of around US$84.6 million and US$13.1 million respectively.
Keppel Shipyard has an unsecured claim of US$2.8 million.