Shipyards vie for Biro business

Two South African shipyards are going head to head in the race to secure offshore patrol vessel contracts that could be worth at least R1.5 billion rand to the winner.
Industry expects the SA Navy to call for tenders for between six and twelve multi-mission offshore patrol vessels (MM OPV) next year.    
Defence analyst Helmoed-Römer Heitman has put the number at 10 and recently wrote in Naval Forces that the Navy was hoping other navies in the region might acquire some of the vessels to create what fleet chief director maritime warfare Rear Admiral Bernhard Teuteberg called a “regional fleet of similar ships, sharing a common platform, fitted with interoperable systems, supported by a centralised maintenance facility and a single spares depot.”
Heitman and shipyard representatives at the recent Africa Aerospace and Defence show in Cape Town fully expected the tender to specify local construction.
At an estimated minimum cost of R150 million per hull the 10 vessels could earn the local builder at least R1.5 billion.
At least nine ship design bureaux exhibited possible designs at the show and most were keen to transfer the skills and technology required for local construction.
Durban-based Southern African Shipyards (SAS) believes it has the inside edge as it owns the only yard that is currently credited with the ability to build ships between 85 and 100 metres in length – the expected size of the Project Biro MM OPVs.
The SAS facility was previously owned by the now-defunct Sandock Austral who built the fleet replenishment ship, the SAS Drakensberg, in the 1980s. It was, at the time the largest vessel built in SA. The yard also built four of the Warrior class offshore patrol vessels and two of the River-class coastal minehunters.    
SAS Financial director Prasheen Maharaj says this makes them the only local contractor foreign naval architects interested in winning Biro can talk to – and they are.   
The Dutch Damen group disagrees. It owns Damen Shipyards Cape Town (DSCT) and Renier van Herel, its regional director for Africa says permission has been obtained to expand the yard so that it can build vessels up to 100m in length. Van Herel says Damen took over the leases, assets and personnel of Far Ocean Marine on 1 January.
Far Ocean Marine had built a number of tugs for the SA Navy to a Damen design and had also built three inshore patrol vessels – also of to a Damen plan – for the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism.
Van Herel says the Damen model relies heavily on subcontracting to small and medium enterprises, thereby creating skills and employment in the surrounding community. He says the company has already outsourced much of the work previously done “in-house” by Far Ocean Marine as doing so is more efficient.
He adds that as a result the shipyard employs about 100 staff while subcontractors have about 1000 employees. “That`s real technology transfer, this is how you build an industry,” he says.         
Maharaj adds that Africa, as a continent, “needs to build strategic manufacturing capabilities in order to unleash its full potential and fight the scourge of poverty…”
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