Eastportt International Inc. of Upper Marlboro, which identifies itself as the world's leading undersea search and recovery company, said yesterday that it had reached a preliminary agreement to be acquired by a Houston-based competitor.
The Texas company, Oceaneering International Inc., agreed to acquire Eastport in a stock transaction valued at about $12.5 million, said George Haubenreich, vice president and general counsel for Oceaneering.
Officials at both companies hailed the proposed transaction yesterday as "a positive development" for the Baltimore-Washington business community.
Eastport was expected to remain at its current location, and its 200-person work force and management team were expected to remain intact.
Lawrence Mocniak, an Eastport executive, said the acquisition "could help the company bring innovative new ideas to the marketplace."
Eastport is primarily engaged in the development and production of underwater remote operating vehicles, a form of minisubmarine used to photograph and recover objects as much as 25,000 feet beneath the ocean's surface.
In an unusual diversification into a new market, Eastport was awarded a contract by Universal Studios earlier this year to design and produce the mechanical system used in fiberglass sharks for a "Jaws" attraction at a theme park near Orlando, Fla.
One of Eastport's ROVs, as the minisubs are called, was used this year to find and identify a shipment of more than 400 drums of poisonous powder swept off the deck of a containership during a storm off Cape May, N.J., Jan. 4 as it was making its way to Baltimore.
It was also an Eastport ROV that recovered the section of booster rocket containing the faulty O-ring after the space shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986.
Under contract with the Navy, Eastport keeps a fleet of ROVs in "firehouse readiness" to be used out of Andrews Air Force Base anywhere in the world on four hours' notice.
During an interview in March, Craig Mullen, a former Navy diver and president of Eastport, revealed plans for a possible public stock offering. Mr. Mocniak said yesterday that if the acquisition by Oceaneering was not completed, "it would probably visit that [public offering] subject at another time."
Eastport reported annual sales of $25 million last year, and Mr. Mullen said in March that the company was growing at an annual rate of about 15 percent.
Oceaneering, an underwater service company that also is involved in developing robotic equipment for use in space, posted revenues of $168 million and income of $15.9 million for the fiscal year that ended March 31, Mr. Haubenreich said.