Friday, 15 May 2009

Fast ferry builder seeks white knight

MARITES S. VILLAMOR, Cebu Bureau Chief

CEBU CITY — Unless a strategic partner buys into the company or clients place new orders, Aboitiz-owned fast ferry builder FBMA Marine, Inc. might have to shut down its shipyard in Balamban after completing the last two high-speed catamarans it is working on.

"If that (a successful deal) kicks in, things will change," FBMA chairman and CEO Roberto E. Aboitiz told a news conference where he announced the retrenchment, effective June 15, of nearly half of the firm’s 198 regular workers.

New orders, he said, have not been received since the middle of last year. A high-speed catamaran was last rolled out of FBMA’s fabrication shop in August 2008 for a client in the Pacific island of New Caledonia.

"The market has dried up. This has been the situation since the middle of last year. We’ve been talking with other shipbuilders — they’re in the same situation," Mr. Aboitiz said.

"The world crisis now is too much to bear and it’s going to last a long time because there’s been overbuilding. A lot of vessels are just lying around," he said.

Buyers who are hindered by the global credit crunch are preferring second-hand vessels which cost lower, he added.

Doug Border, FBMA president and chief operating officer, said the firm was close to securing contracts, but these had been delayed and could possibly be dropped due to financing problems.

Mr. Border said FBMA was continuing to search for new orders and was trying to bring in a strategic partner.

"Balamban is a shipbuilding center. This is the place to build vessels. This is our selling point. This is our value proposition," Mr. Aboitiz said.

The company, meanwhile, is helping the 73 laid-off workers find alternative jobs. Mr. Aboitiz said arrangements were being made with bulk carrier builder Tsuneishi Heavy Industries (Cebu), Inc.

FBMA is now completing two high-speed catamarans for Wightlink, which provides ferry services between the Isle of Wight and mainland United Kingdom.

Aside from high-speed catamarans, FBMA also specializes in building medium-speed ferries, patrol vessels and specialist work boats for European, US, Australian and Asian ship operators. The company has been operating in Balamban since 1997.

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