John Fredriksen has moved swiftly to increase his stake in rival tanker company Euronav, latest US regulatory filings show.

He now controls 19.8m shares, or 9.8% of the US-listed Belgian tanker owner, according to a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

This makes him the company's biggest shareholder, beating the 8.3% in treasury stock owned by Euronav itself.

The shares have been acquired by Famatown Finance, which gives its address in Cyprus as c/o Seatankers Management, the private group that looks after Fredriksen's investments.

Euronav announced on Monday that Fredriksen had built a 5.5% stake in the company prompting speculation of a potential merger.

But it remains to be seen whether this is a bet on the tanker recovery or the start of a bigger involvement in Euronav for Fredriksen.

The filing states the stock has been acquired "for investment purposes".

Rising price

And the documents show a series of deals beginning in August and rising in price in line with the Euronav share.

The first purchase of 100,000 shares was made on 16 August at $7.94 per share.

Regular small amounts were acquired thereafter, until a block of 1.25m shares was bought on 22 September at $8.95.

Another 2.6m were snapped up on 5 October at $10.08 and 2.48m a day later at $10.26.

The last deal shown is on 12 October, when 20,000 shares were acquired at $10.42.

A combination of the VLCCs in the Frontline and Euronav fleets would give the combined entity a market share of around 8%, according to Clarkson Platou Securities.

However, the investment bank said that Fredriksen has in the past bought shares in other tanker companies as financial investments.

Shares in Euronav, which are listed on both the New York Stock Exchange and the Euronext Brussels, closed at $10.16 on Wednesday in New York and €8.70 ($10.08) in Brussels.

Euronav shares are up about 20% in the past month in both the US and Brussels.

Tanker stocks in general have rallied recently ahead of an anticipated winter freight rate recovery, improving oil demand and fuel price rises favouring increased use of crude.

Clarkson Platou said Euronav boasts a strong balance sheet with $183m of cash and $722m of undrawn committed credit facilities at the end of the second quarter of 2021, hence “plenty of liquidity to not only withstand a weak tanker market, but also to invest and return capital to shareholders”.

The company has eight newbuilds under construction — three VLCCs and five suezmaxes — due for delivery in 2022, early 2023 and the first quarter of 2024.