Durban shipbuilder sees contract as springboard to regional growth.
SABBEX: Would you say there has been a sea-change in optimism in the sector in the wake of confirmation of Hotel / Biro?
SHIPYARDS: The Projects have certainly brought a level of impetus to the ship building sector in that we are able to conceive, design and construct world class vessels in South Africa. The end goal being, that the rest of the world will be able to see what we are capable of. It’s put South African shipbuilding back on the map. Project Hotel itself is a highly technical build and to boot a first of class vessel. We have had to bring a lot of the older generation back into the workforce in order to supplement our existing staff and at the same time we trust that this experience will be passed on to a younger generation of shipbuilders.
SABBEX: It’s one of the most ambitious build projects in SA history. What does it mean in terms of potential new jobs / contracts with suppliers / knock-on for SA economy?
SHIPYARDS: The most present return is the immediate and direct labour force employed by SAS which at its peak will number over 600 employees for a period of two years. We are seeing growing evidence that manufacturing supports far more jobs in other sectors than previously thought. The multiplier effect for every one job created in manufacturing could be as high as 1 to 5. Shipbuilding is also able to employ a broad range of skill levels; the construction phase is highly labour intensive with low skill requirement, while the engineering and design requires high skill levels. Suppliers on a national basis have also seen the benefits as we have contracted companies in Cape Town as well as Durban to assist with the project. If we are able to create continuity on shipbuilding projects there is the capability to re-ignite the ship building sector in South Africa. With the knowledge gained from the execution of Project Hotel, SAS has the ability to position ourselves in niche markets as one of only a few yards that have built a highly complex vessel of this nature.
SABBEX: It is testimony to SA skills that the job can be done here in SA?
SHIPYARDS: Shipbuilding at its heart is a steel manufacturing enterprise and thus the skills learnt can be transferred to all forms of the steel manufacturing industry. We are constantly training both boilermakers and welders to meet the growing demand. The challenge exists in finding the necessary higher level boatbuilding skills. We have also looked outside of South Africa to bolster our skills levels and contracted a Korean shipbuilding consultation company to assist us with best practice knowledge, which will be passed onto our labour force.
SABBEX: How far have things progressed since the decision was announced and what is the broad time frame?
SHIPYARDS: We are on schedule at this point to deliver the vessel
SABBEX: A project with these kind of specs no doubt entails a lot of collaboration. Are they any specific partners worth mentioning here for their expert skills / guidance?
SHIPYARDS: We have sourced internationally the best possible package to install on the vessel and this has seen collaboration internationally with Vard in Canada for the design, Wartsilla from Finland and on the local front with Unique Hydra from Cape Town and VeeCraft in Cape Town as well.
SABBEX. What would you say are the biggest challenges? Is currency volatility a problem?
SHIPYARDS: No challenge is insurmountable if proper planning has been put in place. Our slightly aging work force — that has the relevant shipbuilding expertise — has been an issue. However we have managed to entice some South Africans back to South Africa with the necessary skills levels required. We are aware of the problem and have actively introduced succession planning to ensure the skills levels are transferred to a younger generation.
SABBEX: With this project under the belt, does it open up new frontiers in terms of potential similar builds for other navies / organisations?
SHIPYARDS: SAS intends to fully leverage off the project and promote ourselves to the African market as a shipyard that is both capable and price conscious. Ideally we would like an opportunity to pass on these skills to other shipyards in South Africa so we can capacitate the entire continent.
SABBEX: In general terms, how do you see SAS expanding in the long term? Any particular sector likely to be the key focus?
SHIPYARDS: We continue to see ourselves as a shipyard with a national footprint and home-grown talent that we can export to other markets. We want to be able to compete on an international scale while exceeding our clients’ expectations. The niche market of survey vessels is an area we think we can be competitive in.