Philippines shows strong promise

I spent a week in the Philippines recently. Visiting a number of shipyards, I also spoke with ship owners and operators, manning agents, a chandler, a port operator, a major training school owner, and a number of senior naval and coastguard people.

While I have been impressed with the opportunities there previously, this time I came away with a strong feeling that they are much closer to coming to fruition. As is well known, some of the foreign owned shipyards such as Tsuneishi, Onomichi and Keppel have been doing well for years as have the maritime colleges, manning agencies and the ICTSI terminals group.

Now, though, I can sense that a number of locally owned, smaller shipyards are on the verge of moving effectively into the export market for vessels such as tugs, barges, landing craft, OSVs, patrol, passenger and fishing boats. There is an obvious new vitality there.

The whole scene reminds me of Sarawak and to a lesser extent, the Vietnam and China of fifteen to twenty years ago. Philippino tradesmen who have worked overseas are returning home with good skills. They are being joined by foreign shipbuilders who like the Philippine lifestyle, the positive approach of the people and, particularly, the very reasonable prices of land, labour and buildings.

A number of new, modern slipways are being installed and significant amounts are being invested to make local shipyards more competitive globally. It is a very exciting time for the local industry. I think they are moving in precisely the right direction.

Certainly, a lot of south-east Asia is flourishing in the shipbuilding sense. Malaysia, obviously, and Indonesia, around Batam and Surabaya as well as Vietnam are all churning out good volumes of vessels of generally good quality. Mostly, they are smaller, more specialised vessels but there is still a stream of significant cargo ships coming from such yards.

However, until now, only one or two Philippine owned shipyards, such as the now shuttered FBMA, have built for export. This is about to change. Now that they have the capabilities and capacity, a number of Philippine shipyards are starting to move into the export market.

One yard I visited is a typical example. The long established Colorado Shipyard in Cebu, right in the middle of the Philippines, is well underway with the construction of a 76 metre multi-purpose cargo ship for the Society Islands (Tahiti).

This is a most interesting vessel. It combines facilities and capacities for cruise passengers, deck cargo, capacious holds and abnormally large tankage to effectively make it a parcel tanker. It even has a swimming pool! Much of the super structure is being built locally in aluminium.

The steelwork for the hull and, particularly the tricky bulbous bow, looked good. So too did the aluminium work. It is being undertaken by local tradesmen with support from a couple of pioneering Australian aluminium experts.

The same yard, Colorado, is also building a series of FRP assault boats for the Philippine Army. They also have six impressive looking multi and mono hull yachts to build. They are also aluminium. At the same time they are constructing a substantial new slipway.

Some of this activity, especially the Tahiti ship, has been inspired by a tie-up with well known Australian yard Harwood Marine. This is something of a marriage made in heaven. Harwood have experienced major difficulty in recruiting skilled labour in Australia, despite their idyllic location. Colorado have a lot of good people aboard. Harwood have brought sales contacts and technical skills to complement Colorado’s first rate facilities and people.

There will probably be more of this multi-national co-operation as has happened in other Asian shipbuilding centres. It’s a “win-win” situation. Both the Philippino shipbuilders and their foreign partners will benefit as long as they keep their expectations realistic.

The promise is certainly there. I think it will quickly come to fruition.

Neil Baird

Co-founder and former Editor-in-Chief of Baird Maritime and Work Boat World magazine, Neil has travelled the length and breadth of this planet in over 40 years in the business. He knows the global work boat industry better than anyone.