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Braving New Waves Together: Specialist Builders


Celebrating 40 Years of ASMI
World-Class Industry
Premier Centre For Ship Repair And Conversion
Glowing Prospects For FPSO Conversion
Offshore Bonanza 
Specialist Builders
A Complete Maritime Community 
Developing Human Capital
Safety First
Leveraging On Technology 
Battle For Hearts And Minds


Specialist Builders 

Niche Builder

Once dismissed as a sector with a limited future, Singapore shipbuilding has come to its own.  While it will never be as big as ship repair or rig building, nor will it ever be in the same league as Japan and South Korea in shipbuilding, nonetheless, Singapore shipbuilders have established their own niche areas. They have evolved into specialist builders for smaller and customised vessels.


Japan and South Korea are good in building series ships, we are more flexible. We are able to accommodate shipowners’ requirements, provided they pay. We can custom-make everything for them, deliver on time and give very good on-site performance,” said Mr Tan.


In the past, shipbuilding involved primarily tugs, ferries, supply boats, bunker tankers and container feeder ships. In the 1980s, the shipbuilders moved up the value chain to build container ships, cement carriers and product tankers. The range has since expanded to include cable-laying ships, pipe-laying vessels, RoRo (roll-on/roll-off) vessels, ice-breakers and other offshore vessels. With the current offshore boom, Singapore shipyards have received a slew of orders for offshore support vessels.


The sizeable contracts, some of the largest in Singapore’s shipbuilding history, have lifted gross revenue from shipbuilding to a new level. From S$918 million in 1998, shipbuilding revenue increased to an all-time high of S$1.8 billion in 2007. 


A Mixed Legacy

Located in an archipelagic region, Singapore was ideally suited to be a shipbuilder for regional trading and short-sea excursions. Hundreds had been built since boat building began on the banks of the Singapore and Kallang Rivers and the foreshores of Tanjong Rhu. The earliest record of boatbuilding goes back to 1823, when Hallpike Boatyard was set up.


With independence in 1965, the government of Singapore gave the industry a proverbial shot in the arm to build up the republic’s shipbuilding and engineering capability. With shipbuilding expertise from IHI, its partners in Jurong Shipyard, Jurong Shipbuilders was formed.


Operational in 1971, it completed 16 Freedom type multi-purpose vessels and three 90,000-dwt tankers, before it was caught by the winds of change. Following the slump in shipbuilding precipitated by the oil price spike of the 70s, Jurong Shipbuilders was merged with Jurong Shipyard in 1976 and became known as the Newship Division. Shipbuilding forms part of the suite of services offered by the Sembcorp Marine group, helping to reinforce its engineering capability.


Even with the heavy workload, the company continues to pitch for newbuilding contracts which call on its design capability. “We need to take challenges. Newbuildings involving new technology allow us to get in touch with market expectations,” said Mr Wong Weng Sun. In 2007, the group puts its skills to good use in building the world’s largest floating platform for Singapore’s National Day celebration. 


While Singapore has the technical ability to build large vessels, there may be no comparative advantage in doing so, as they can be completed cheaper and faster by South Korea, Japan and increasingly China, which are organised for the construction of standard-type vessel and have the advantage of local equipment manufacturers and steel mills. The option for Singapore is to scour for specialised niches which often require customisation to meet specific requirements.  


High Specs Vessels

Singapore builders have found their turf in the construction of offshore vessels. Their forte is in Anchor Handling Tug and Supply (AHTS) vessels. “For every rig, you need to have two vessels attending to it, to keep the ships supplied and be on standby,” said Hoe Eng Hock, ASMI’s Vice President, 2005-2009, and Executive Director of Keppel Singmarine.


With the oil majors boosting their investment plans, Singapore shipyards are seeing higher demand for offshore vessels with high product specifications, some with price tags exceeding S$100 million a piece, which require them to undertake the complete design, engineering, construction, outfitting and commissioning. Among them are heavy-lift derrick pipe-laying vessels, subsea operation vessels, offshore construction vessels and even an ice-class Floating Storage Offloading system for operations in icy conditions.


Singapore is seen by many shipowners to be reliable, who can be entrusted to complete sizeable contracts on time and according to specifications. We have the necessary support facilities, the presence of classification societies and equipment manufacturers. We have our infrastructure, our efficient system, and above all, we have built up good management capability,” said Mr Hoe.


While the offshore contracts have grabbed the headlines, Singapore has established niches in other areas. Damen Shipyards Singapore specialises in fast ferries that are 30 to 60 metres long, which contributed to Singapore’s 50% share of the global market for fast ferries of less than 60 metres in length. Singapore Technologies Marine has delivered two RoRo vessels specially designed and equipped to carry pre-assembled sections of Airbus’ giant A380 passenger liner.


While shipbuilding will not be comparable to ship repair in scale or scope, it will always remain an important part of the range of marine services offered in Singapore.

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