Mumbai: As part of attempts to recover their loans, lenders of Sterling Port Ltd plan to bring a strategic investor to replace the existing concessionaire at the Dahej port project in Gujarat, two people aware of the development said.

Sterling Port Ltd is promoted by Vadodara-based Sandesara Group.

The lenders, which include Srei Infrastructure Finance, Andhra Bank and Corporation Bank, have invited expressions of interest (EoI) for the port, the first person said on condition of anonymity.

Interested parties have been asked to submit EoIs by 25 November.

Sterling Port promoters hold close to 74% equity in the port project, while the remaining stake is held by Sterling Biotech Ltd, the group’s publicly listed flagship company.

The company has been awarded a 30-year concession to develop an all-weather, direct-berthing port for handling dry bulk, liquid bulk and container cargoes.

Debt worth Rs300 crore is owed to lenders along with another Rs80 crore due towards The Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB), the regulator for all non-major ports in Gujarat, said one of the persons mentioned above.

“However, submitting EoI in 10 days time may not be possible for the serious bidders as it may normally require 2-3 months’ time for the preparation," said one of the persons cited above.

Srei will have an advantage over the others as it would be the only one able to submit the EoI in the given time, the person added.

“Srei has a credit exposure to Sterling Port-Dahej. We are exploring various mechanisms to recover our dues, as permitted under the regulations and laws," said a Srei Infrastructure Finance spokesperson.

Mails sent to Chetan Sandesara, director at Sterling Port Ltd and Andhra Bank did not elicit responses.

Mint had reported in March that Srei Infrastructure Finance Ltd planned to acquire Sandesara Group’s stake in a Rs4,060-crore greenfield port being developed at Dahej.

This was in the backdrop of around Rs6,000 crore in loans advanced to several companies of Vadodara-based Sandesara group turning bad, Mint reported.

GMB had signed a concession agreement with Sterling Port Ltd for the development of Dahej port in June 2015.

Kolkata-based Srei has invoked a clause in GMB’s sub-concession agreement with Sterling Port wherein a lender has the right to approach the regulator with a request to replace the port operator by another developer.Sandesara Group would continue to remain a minority stake holder in Sterling Port and was planning to sell the majority stake to Srei, Mint had reported, quoting Chetan Sandesara, one of the group’s promoters.

GMB had invited competitive bids for the development of the Dahej port in the Bharuch District on a build-own-operate-transfer basis. The project received environmental and coastal regulation zone clearance and construction work has started.

In phase-I, two solid cargo terminals, a liquid cargo terminal and a container terminal would be commissioned at a cost of around Rs2,500 crore. In phase-II, one terminal each for solid, liquid and container would be added.

Last month, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had registered a case against Sterling Biotech Ltd for defaulting on loans worth over Rs5,383 crore.

The CBI alleged that the company had taken loans of over Rs5,000 crore from a consortium led by Andhra Bank which had turned into non-performing assets. The first information report (FIR) alleged that the total pending dues of the Sandesara group companies were Rs5,383 crore as on 31 December 2016, Press Trust of India reported last month.

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