Premier Centre For Ship Repair And Conversion
Situated along the main arterial route, Singapore is well placed to be a centre for ship repair. Ships can sail into the port, the busiest in the world; discharge their cargo before heading for dry dock. Once the job is done, they can be on their way, with no unnecessary costs incurred for diversion.
Captain William Cloughton spotted the island’s natural advantage over 150 years ago while sailing between India and China. As there were no intermediary facilities between the two countries, he came ashore, and in 1859, completed Dock No. 1 in Pantai Chermin. By the end of the 19th century, Singapore had four graving docks to service steamships involved in the east-west trading route.
The leaders of modern Singapore built on this infrastructure following its independence. The government extended an invitation to foreign investors to inject much needed capital and expertise in both technology and marketing. As a sweetener, pioneer status was granted to key players. Japan’s shipbuilding group
Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries, was the first company to respond. Together with the government investment arm, Temasek Holdings, Jurong Shipyard was formed in 1963, becoming the first commercial shipyard set up to service tankers shuttling between Japan and the Middle East.
The Port of Singapore's Dockyard Department and the HM Naval Dockyard, both legacies of the British, were privatised and commercialised in 1968, and became Keppel Shipyard and Sembawang Shipyard respectively.
The first VLCC (very large crude carrier) was repaired in the early 1970s and tankers became the mainstay of ship repair activities. Ship repair base was broadened to include cruise ships and other ship types such as chemical carriers. By the mid 1970s, Singapore had become the largest ship repair centre in the world.
In the 1980s, ship repair jobs had increased in complexity to include jumboisation, modification, conversion and life extensions of ships. Today, ship repair remains the lynchpin of the Singapore marine and offshore industry, generating over S$6 billion in 2007, contributing nearly half of its gross revenue.
Mr Chia said, “We offer a broad range of services, excellent facilities. We are capable of producing good-quality work, safely and on time. In addition, there is Singapore’s infrastructure we can rely on – its good communication, ease of transportation of parts and services to complement our ship repair services. We have a cluster here in Singapore not just of shipyards, but also major engineering companies, vendors and suppliers, and together, we make Singapore strong as one of the world’s premier ship repair centres.”
Buoyed by an expanding oil trade, demand for shipping is higher than at any time in living memory, a development which augurs well for Singapore shipyards. Today, there is far more work than its dry dock capacity of 3.33 million deadweight tonnes can handle.
Focal Point for Tankers
The advent of super tankers served as a boost to Singapore’s ambition to be a major ship repair centre. After discharging crude oil in Japan or South Korea, the tanks can be cleaned and gas free to remove residual oil and gas prior to dry docking, a process which takes two to seven days, depending on the type of crude oil carried and the cleaning equipment used. The tankers can then head for dry dock without further delays.
Singapore completed its first super tanker dry dock in 1968. Today, it has eight mammoth graving docks, ranging from 200,000 to 500,000 deadweight tonnes, and which can accommodate some of the biggest tankers afloat.
Before the oil crisis of the 1970s, which precipitated the collapse of the super-tanker market, VLCC repairs generated handsome profits for the major shipyards. When demand dwindled, the yards were forced to reassess their position. They have since broadened their base to include liquefied natural gas (LNG) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) carriers, cruise ships and ship conversion projects.
In the key tanker sector, which still accounts for a sizeable chunk of Singapore’s repair volume and revenue, the shipyards have gone beyond routine jobs to clinch higher value-added contracts with more engineering content involving life extension and conversion. The experience gained in repairing and restoring tankers, including dozens severely damaged by the Iran-Iraq war, has sharpened the shipyards’ capability to take on contracts involving the conversion of tankers into floating production systems for the offshore industry.
Second Life for Carriers
Conversion and modification have become a good source of revenue for ship repair yards as it draws on their wealth of experience. “In the past, the concentration was on ship repair. But ship repair is easy to replicate. Dubai’s capacity is now as big as ours. For renewal of steel, China’s yards can do it more cheaply, though the time taken may be longer. Over the years, we have evolved and gone into conversions, which require strong project management capability,” said Mr Tan.
Since the 1980s, when general cargo ships were converted to cattle carriers for the Middle East, Singapore shipyards have undertaken projects to modify cable ships to cruise ships, lengthen container ships and dredgers, using their proven engineering skills, procurement and construction expertise and strong organisational capabilities.
The range of conversion projects undertaken here in Singapore is as wide as the imagination – from car ferry to dynamic positioning accommodation and repair vessel, scientific research vessel into integrated ocean drilling vessel, fishing trawler into seismic research vessel, containership to livestock carrier, and tanker to FPSO. Conversion now accounts for over a third of the revenues generated by the ship repair yards.
Emerging LNG Repair Centre
As each LNG carrier costs in excess of US$200 million, the maintenance of LNG vessels is a field reserved for only a select few. Besides having to be adequately equipped, the shipyard must also meet the ship owners’ stringent standards on quality and safety.
“LNG is different from other ships; it is a high-value asset. Singapore is a reputable place to be and our set-up is good. We should be able to hold on to a piece of the market. There is a good steady stream of LNG ships being repaired here in Singapore,” said Mr Wong Weng Sun.
Since the first LNG carrier dry docked in Singapore in 1995, over 100 LNG and LPG carriers have been repaired by Keppel Shipyard and Sembcorp Marine’s Jurong Shipyard and Sembawang Shipyard, many as part of long-term or ‘evergreen’ contracts with major industry players. More are expected in the foreseeable future.
Spurred on by environmental concerns, world consumption of natural gas is gaining steadily, and is predicted to surpass oil consumption by 2030. Key players are increasing their fleets to accommodate the increasing demand. By the end of the decade, the world fleet will exceed 300 vessels from about 200 currently, while the number of ship repair yards capable of keeping them shipshape is expected to remain limited.
Enough for Everyone
Questions over the ability of Singapore shipyards to maintain the level of capacity in the face of increasing costs have been put on the backburner for now. The global expansion in shipping has resulted in under capacity for ship repair, which is worsened as shipyards switch to more lucrative conversion contracts. Ship owners have to book their ships up to six months in advance to be assured of a berth.
With the benefit of experience, none of the shipyards are in a hurry to expand the already sizeable capacity residing in Singapore to take on the increasing work volume. Instead, they are trying to maximise available facilities here, and when necessary, expand to neighbouring locations such as Batam, Bintan and Karimun, where there are lesser constraints on land and labour resources.
Until more shipyards are built and brought up to speed to tilt the supply-demand equation and trigger a structural shift within the industry, the Singapore ship repair sector will continue to enjoy a healthy work volume. With so many ships plying today, there is enough work for everybody.