A heritage of entrepreneurial trailblazing

Acquired India’s first private oil tanker in 1976

It was the 1970s and a wave of nationalisation had engulfed India. Private enterprise was neither practised with much fervour, nor encouraged by the government. India would import most of its requirement for petroleum products, which were brought into our ports by foreign-flag vessels that monopolised the country’s expansive coastline. No private company was keen to venture into the business of shipping petro products since the vessels required for the purpose involved cutting-edge technology that Indian companies were yet to get their heads around. It was a risky venture that most companies did not have an appetite for.

Essar had other ideas. By this time, it had acquired decent experience in executing marine construction projects. The Shipping business, therefore, seemed like a logical extension. In 1976, Essar bought India ’s first private tanker, which was later christened MV Nandkala, for the princely sum of US$3.77 million.

The company concurrently approached State Bank of India (SBI) for a loan. SBI officials were the first bankers to give a performance guarantee to Essar’s first marine construction project. But even they found the Ruia brothers’ latest proposal “ambitious”. After all, the loan was a first-of-its-kind transaction even for SBI! Eventually, the loan was sanctioned, with a repayment structure that was unique at that time. It involved buying an asset against the securitisation of receivables.

MV Nandkala was soon chartered to Indian Oil Corporation, a move that imparted stability to the fledgling Essar Group.