Once a regional ferry operator and minor shipbuilder, Penguin International has become a highly successful builder of passenger ferries and mid-sized crewboats, as Rebecca Moore found when she interviewed its chief executive James Tham
Singapore’s publicly listed designer, builder, owner and operator of high speed workboats Penguin International has been on a journey over the past decade. It has transformed itself from a loss-making regional ferry business and a minor shipbuilder into a prolific builder of mid-sized crewboats, as well as a designer and builder of passenger ferries.
Backed by a strong balance sheet with substantially more cash than debt and a globally recognised brand – Flex – Penguin has delivered more than 100 crewboats since 2006. Ranging in size from 25m to 50m, most of them were built for stock as part of an internally funded investment programme.
Reinvigoration of the business started when executive chairman Jeffrey Hing and managing director James Tham took over the leadership of Penguin in 2008. Mr Tham recalled, “We saw that Penguin was an undervalued company with a rich history and solid assets. It simply needed a bit of tender loving care to focus, nurture and grow it into the successful company that it deserved to be.”
Under the new management team, which included finance director Joanna Tung, who started off as an accountant in the company in 2000 and defied the odds in a male-dominated industry, the improvements started to bear fruit. Mr Tham said that the sale of the regional ferry business, Penguin Ferry Services, in 2011 was a major milestone in the company’s transformation. The reinvention of Penguin was expedited by a shipyard that it already owned in Tuas on the southwestern tip of Singapore. Today, as well as designing and building crewboats and ferries for third-party shipowners, Penguin charters out its own Flex crewboats in Malaysia and Thailand and provides ferry transportation services within Singapore waters.
“We usually own and operate what we design and build,” Mr Tham enthused. “This sets us apart from pure builders and pure operators. As a builder, we understand the trials and tribulations of being a shipowner.”
Mr Tham said that the company’s Singapore base and its heritage were a strong pull for attracting business. “We are a Singaporean company, born and bred. That alone is a competitive advantage. Singapore itself is a brand. It is known for honesty, quality and competitiveness.”
Also of importance to the company has been its relationship with BMT Nigel Gee in the UK. Indeed, Penguin has enjoyed a good working relationship with BMT Nigel Gee over the past decade. Designed in partnership with BMT Nigel Gee, the Flex-42X, Penguin’s latest crewboat, scores a number of industry firsts for a mid-sized crewboat. These include the fact that it is the world’s fastest triple-screw mid-sized crewboat powered by three conventional Caterpillar C32 ACERT main engines, and the world’s first Maritime Labour Convention certified mid-sized crewboat.
The Flex-42X will eventually join Penguin’s product line in its built for stock programme. It is a 42m, 30 knot, triple-screw crewboat powered by three Caterpillar C32 ACERT main engines and has 70 business class reclining seats and two VIP cabins on the main deck, 110m2 cargo deck and two external fire-fighting monitors.
Swire takes delivery of Kestrel
Among the most recent deliveries to Swire Pacific Offshore is Pacific Kestrel, a 57m catamaran crewboat that was built by Austal Ships. The 40 knot vessel is capable of transporting 90 personnel plus cargo to offshore platforms in up to sea state 6.
Pacific Kestrel has a large aft 200m2 cargo deck with integrated structural mounts and onboard support systems for the fitment of an Ampelmann motion compensated gangway, facilitating the safe transfer of personnel to offshore platforms. The main deck cabin has individual reclining seats for 90 passengers with luggage racks and a medical treatment room. All accommodation spaces comply with MLC 96/ILO 92 guidelines.
Making use of Incat Crowther’s semi-small waterplane area twin hull, the vessel has a powertrain consisting of four MTU 16V4000 main engines, driving Hamilton HT810 waterjets. Pacific Kestrel met its contractual loaded service speed of 40 knots during sea trials. It also has search and rescue capability with a fast rescue craft and a chemical dispersant system for oil spill first-response capability