QIC acquires northern Australia marine transport business

The Brisbane-headquartered fund manager has acquired Sea Swift for a little under A$300 million in a move that diversifies away from core infrastructure in its Global Infrastructure Fund.

QIC has agreed a deal to acquire 100 percent of Sea Swift, a privately-owned marine transport and logistics business headquartered in Cairns, Australia.

The fund manager has made the deal through its Global Infrastructure Fund, a A$2.35 billion ($1.6 billion; €1.5 billion) vehicle that closed in March 2017, for a value understood to be slightly less than A$300 million.

Sea Swift, which provides logistics services to more than 5,000 customers in far-north Australia, operates throughout the region’s remote coastal and island communities, with depots in Darwin, Gove and Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory; and Cairns, Weipa, Seisia, Horn Island, Badu Island and Thursday Island in Queensland.

A source familiar with the sale said QIC made the acquisition to provide portfolio diversity within its Global Infrastructure Fund, which has focused mainly on core infrastructure by acquiring stakes in the Port of Melbourne and Brussels Airport, among other assets.

It also entered into a 50-year partnership to invest in Northeastern University’s parking system in the US in January.

Sea Swift is a less traditional infrastructure asset but has infrastructure-like characteristics as it is the only marine logistics provider in northern Australia of any scale.

The business was originally pitched to investors in May via a two-stage auction but QIC entered a period of exclusivity and agreed the acquisition before the end of the auction, the source said.

Sea Swift brought in revenues of around A$150 million in FY18 with EBITDA of approximately A$30 million.

QIC confirmed the deal with a statement on its website but declined to comment further. The deal has reached contractual close, while financial close is expected in the coming months.

In a separate statement, Sea Swift chief executive Fred White said: “QIC is one of the largest owners of transportation infrastructure in Australia, and in particular brings extensive experience managing marine transportation assets, including being the equal largest shareholder of the Port of Melbourne and Port of Brisbane.”

While the company said it is looking forward to leveraging QIC’s experience in continuing its growth, it noted that the fund manager “has no current plans for any significant changes to the day-to-day operations of the business”.

QIC is also currently bidding for Perth-based Pacific Energy in a take-private deal. The firm’s board accepted a bid from QIC’s Global Infrastructure Fund to acquire the business for A$0.975 per share in July, valuing the business at A$422 million.

Canadian pension OPTrust was also interested in Pacific Energy and made a bid prior to the acceptance of the QIC offer, according to a market source.