Boeing Still Seeking $356 Million from Sea Launch Partners

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PARIS — Boeing has not abandoned its effort to collect $356 million from its former Sea Launch commercial launch service partners in Russia and Ukraine despite an initial setback at a Swedish arbitration panel. Boeing said Feb. 9 that the companies in question “have the wherewithal to pay.”

Long Beach, Calif.-based Sea Launch is emerging from bankruptcy with fresh cash provided by an affiliate of RSC Energia of Korolev, Russia, the company that Boeing says owes nearly two-thirds of the money it is seeking for reimbursement of loans and bank guarantees it made to Sea Launch.

How likely it is that Boeing will be able to recover these funds is not known, but the company is pursuing its case at the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce despite that body’s previous refusal to rule on the case, saying it lacked jurisdiction.

In a Feb. 9 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Boeing said the Swedish panel spent a year examining Boeing’s request for arbitration before deciding, in October 2010, that it had no standing to make a ruling. Boeing said it filed an appeal Jan. 11.

“We believe the partners have the wherewithal to pay and intend to pursue vigorously all of our rights and remedies,” Boeing said. If it fails, it could face a pretax charge for the full $356 million, the company said.

Boeing said $147 million of the total relates to a bank guarantee that Boeing made to Sea Launch on behalf of all shareholders. The Norwegian shareholders have reimbursed Boeing for their pro rata share, but to date the Russian and Ukrainian shareholders have contested Boeing’s claims.

Boeing said S.P. Korolev Rocket and Space Corp. Energia’s share of the outstanding obligations is $223 million. PO Yuzhnoye Mashinostroitelny Zavod of Ukraine owes $89 million, and its partner, KB Yuzhnoye, owes $44 million, according to Boeing.

Energia Overseas Corp., an affiliate of RSC Energia — Russia’s biggest space hardware company — is leading Sea Launch out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy with promises of enough cash to return the commercial launch venture to flight as soon as later this year. Sea Launch officials have said that the Chapter 11 process has unburdened the company of a crippling debt load — mainly owed to Boeing.

Boeing was a 40 percent shareholder in Sea Launch and was its general contractor.

In an unrelated legal action, Boeing said its dispute with ICO Global Communications is continuing in Los Angeles County Superior Court, which in 2009 ordered Boeing to pay ICO, a former satellite customer, $604 million. The sum rises by 10 percent per year as long as it is unpaid.

Boeing said no date has been set for its appeal of the original court decision.

Finally, Boeing’s dispute with satellite fleet operator Telesat of Canada over the defective Anik F1 satellite owned by Telesat promises to continue until a Canadian arbitration hearing set for April 16, 2012, Boeing said. Telesat has alleged Boeing committed “gross negligence” in delivering the Anik F1 satellite, one of several first-generation Boeing 702 models that had a defective solar array design.

Telesat already has received an insurance settlement relating to Anik F1.

Most of Boeing’s space-related activity is in its Network and Space Systems division, which reported a 13 percent drop in revenue, to $9.45 billion, in 2010 compared with 2009. Operating earnings also were down, to 7.5 percent of revenue compared with 7.7 percent in 2009.

Boeing said the revenue decline was mainly due to reduced sales for the Brigade Combat Team Modernization and Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) programs. Also contributing to the drop was the fact that Boeing delivered three military satellites in 2009 and just one in 2010.

The Network and Space Systems division reported a 24 percent increase in backlog, to nearly $9.6 billion, as of Dec. 31 compared with a year earlier. Boeing in 2010 won two billion-dollar commercial satellite programs: a three-satellite contract with Inmarsat of London for Ka-band mobile broadband spacecraft, and a deal with the Mexican government for fixed and mobile communications using two Boeing-built L-band satellites and one smaller C- and Ku-band satellite to be provided by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va.

Boeing said its backlog increase is also due to GMD orders and a multiyear contract with NASA for the international space station.