Aust company buys Cook Strait ferries

The family that owns the Bluebridge Cook Strait ferry service has sold the bulk of its transport business to an Australian equity company.

Champ Private Equity has agreed to buy Strait Shipping, owner of Bluebridge, and Freight Lines from the Barker family, it was announced on Tuesday.

No price was mentioned in the announcement.

The sale represents the end of an era for the Barker family but was in keeping with founder Jim Barker's wishes, says Strait Shipping managing director spokeswoman and Mr Barker's daughter Sheryl Ellison.

"We are extremely proud of these three leading New Zealand transport businesses and we are excited about their future under a new growth focused ownership," she said in a joint statement.

Mr Barker had been closely involved with the sale until his death in August, Ms Ellison said.

"It was Dad's vision that these businesses would continue to thrive, grow and lead New Zealand's transport industry into the future and we're confident that this sale will ensure this."

Strait Shipping started its Cook Strait service with one ferry in 1992 when Mr Barker wanted a service to transport cattle. It now operates two ferries, the Straitsman and Strait Feronia.

The Barker family will retain ownership of Bulklines and Stocklines, which are not included in the sale.

Sydney-based Champ says it manages about $A3 billion ($NZ3.1 billion) of private equity investments.

Managing director Cameron Buchanan says they want to grow the Barker businesses.

"We're committed to building on the strong foundations the Barker family has created and growing these businesses for the benefit of not only investors but also the wider New Zealand freight and passenger transport markets," he said.

Settlement is expected to take place in the first quarter of 2017 subject to regulatory approval.

Last year Champ bought a majority stake in Christchurch-based outdoor gear chain Macpac.

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