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Saga sets post-Easter deadline for cruise operation suitors

Saga has set a deadline next month for proposals to release capital from its ocean cruises operation.

Sky News understands that the London-listed insurance and travel group is working with Lazard, the investment bank, on potential partnership arrangements for the cruise business.

Prospective buyers have been asked to submit indicative offers in April, according to insiders.

The structure of a deal has still to be determined but Saga and its advisers are exploring a number of options for the division, which operates the Spirit of Adventure and Spirit of Discovery.

Saga has been labouring under the weight of a large debt pile for years.

Last autumn it tapped its chairman, Roger de Haan, for £35m, adding to the substantial sum of money it owes him.

The evaluation of new corporate activity by Saga's board comes ahead of a £150m bond repayment which is due in May but which is understood to be repayable from money lent by Mr de Haan.

In its interim results announced last September, Saga's balance sheet was saddled with net debt of more than £650m.

The company's shares have fallen by nearly a fifth during the last 12 months, leaving it with a market capitalisation of just over £200m.

Mr de Haan, the company's former chief executive, was parachuted back in to lead a turnaround in the summer of 2020, investing £100m as part of a broader capital-raising.

That came after it spurned a takeover bid from private equity investors.

At the start of last year, it unveiled a global website called Saga Exceptional, aimed at providing advice and services to over-50s consumers.

However, it has been forced to contend with a change of leadership following the resignation last year of chief executive Euan Sutherland.

He has been replaced by finance chief Mike Hazell.

A large part of the company's current travails relate to conditions in the motor insurance market, which it said had been impacting its ability to generate cash and reduce debt.

Saga had also been in talks to sell its underwriting business to Open, an Australian insurer, but failed to finalise a transaction.

Mr de Haan, the son of the company's founder, had already lent Saga £50m before extending that to an £85m facility earlier in the autumn.

Shares in Saga closed on Thursday at 119.6p.

A spokeswoman for the company declined to comment.