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The likelihood of a sale signals the cutting of most direct maritime ties for the 62-year-old Skeggs Group, other than its Skeggs Bluff Oysters Ltd. The private company initially prospered and grew through widespread commercial fishing interests then coastal cargo handling.
Global shipping company Swire Group's subsidiary, the China Navigation Company (CNCo), last month signed a conditional purchase agreement with Pacifica, which was founded by former Dunedin mayor Sir Clifford Skeggs' investment company the Skeggs Group about 29 years ago.
Contacted yesterday, CNCo country manager spokesman Brodie Stevens said negotiations were ''progressing; nearly there, the plan is [conclusion] by the end of the month''.
He declined to reveal the multimillion-dollar purchase price, saying it was commercially sensitive.
During the past decade, Pacifica vessels have largely not included Dunedin on routes, other than a brief service resumption in 2008-09 by the Spirit of Endurance.
The Pacifica purchase includes its vessels Spirit of Endurance and Spirit of Independence and will remain an independent operation, based out of Auckland, and will retain offices and all staff elsewhere, including in Dunedin.
Swire, which first called in New Zealand 130 years ago, operates five independent multipurpose liner services from New Zealand to Asia, Australia, North America and the Pacific Islands.
Mr Stevens said CNCo wanted to increase its investment in New Zealand and had expansion plans for Pacifica, which included ''larger vessels and other routes'' to better service the country's domestic shipping routes.
Swire said in a statement it had extensive interests in agencies, stevedoring, logistics and multipurpose liner shipping services.
Neither Pacifica Shipping's Steve Chapman nor Skeggs Group managing director David Skeggs returned calls yesterday.
Interests still retained by the Skeggs Group include tourism company Southern Discoveries Ltd, winemaker Akarua Ltd, Fijian marina complex developer Port Denarau Marina Ltd and Skeggs Bluff Oysters Ltd.
Southern Discoveries operates numerous monohull and catamaran vessels in Milford Sound and Queenstown.
The NBR's annual ''rich list'' had the Skeggs family interests valued at $100 million in July last year, having risen from $90 million and $85 million during the previous two years.
By early 2012, Skeggs Group had divested itself of most of its aquaculture interests, while reinvesting heavily in its expanding tourism holdings. It sold most of its aquaculture assets to Sanford Ltd in November 2010 for $85 million. At the time, it retained its Bluff oyster and salmon holdings, but later sold subsidiary Pacifica Salmon Ltd for $950,000 to the New Zealand King Salmon Co Ltd, a Malaysian majority shareholder company which had to get consent from the Overseas Investment Office.
In 2011, Southern Discoveries bought a 50% share in Queenstown's Kawarau Jet, and took over the Te Anau-based coach and tour operation Go Milford and Go Fiordland's Information Centre, the two-boat Queenstown Fishing Charters business, a retail store and a cafe and bar. In 2008, Skeggs Group took a 49% stake in the Milford Sound Development Authority, a private company responsible for the facilities and infrastructure at the harbour, as part of its wider Milford Sound investment.
In June of that year, Skeggs bought Milford Sound Red Boats from Tourism Holdings Ltd for $17.3 million.