South Korean shipbuilders trying to stay ahead of arch-rival China are considering a joint bid for a French group that provides advanced technology for LNG sea transport, officials said on Tuesday.
Gaztransport & Technigaz (GTT) specialises in cargo containment systems for advanced liquefied natural gas carriers.
Delegates from its financial advisers, Lazard, had paid a two-day visit to South Korea to brief potential buyers and would also meet Chinese shipbuilders, the officials said.
"South Korean shipbuilders are interested in the bidding," an official of Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI), the world's largest shipbuilder by sales, told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The shipyards, including HHI, Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME) and STX Offshore & Shipbuilding, may form a consortium to make a one-billion-euro ($1.3 billion) bid for the French group, he said.
It would be difficult for a South Korean shipyard to make a solo bid at a time when the global shipbuilding industry is in a downturn, he added.
A DSME official said local shipbuilders were worried that if Chinese competitors buy GTT they will close the technology gap with South Korean firms and force them to pay royalties.
South Korean shipbuilders pay GTT $10 million for each LNG vessel, about five percent of the total building cost, because GTT has a patent for its LNG containment systems.
Last year South Korea received orders for 40 LNG carriers, about 70 percent of total global orders for such ships.
It was also the world's largest builder of all types of ship, according to London-based Clarkson Research Services.
The firm said South Korean shipbuilders won a combined 13.55 million compensated gross tons (CGTs) in new orders last year, while Chinese shipbuilders clinched a total of 9.2 million CTGs.
It said South Korea accounted for 48.2 percent of the total 28.11 million CGTs worth of deals placed globally, compared with 31.2 percent a year earlier.