TUI said it would examine all options for Hapag-Lloyd, including a spin-off, a merger with a peer or a sale to an investor, in what appeared to be a defeat for company boss Michael Frenzel. The shipping division posted €6.2 billion ($9.8 billion) in sales last year, according to preliminary figures released early this month.
"The interests of our shareholders, bondholders and employees are to be taken into account in an appropriate manner," the company said in a statement.
At the same time, the board had asked TUI's management to come up with "further growth options" for the tourism division, which posted €15.6 billion in sales, according to the preliminary figures. Further information was to be released on Tuesday at the company's annual results press conference, TUI said.
The news spelled defeat for Frenzel, who had staunchly defended a two-pillar strategy for the group despite scepticism from analysts and some key shareholders. Calls had increased in the past week in favour of a break-up, in particular from Norwegian shareholder John Fredriksen.
US shareholder Guy Wyser-Pratte bought one percent of TUI in late September for €40 million and launched a campaign against Frenzel, who nonetheless saw his mandate renewed until 2012.
Stock market rumours have suggested renewed interest by the Singapore holding company Temasek for a merger of its container shipping unit Neptune Orient Lines, with Hapag Lloyd.