Finally, the Navy buys ships in Balamban
SHOOTING STRAIGHT - Valeriano Avila (The Freeman) - August 6, 2019 - 12:00am

Our congratulations to Aboitiz Construction Inc., the construction arm of Aboitiz that completed the expansion of shipbuilding facilities of Austal Philippines, which contracted the Cebu-based company to design and build six assembly bays including the recently inaugurated John Rothwell Assembly Bay, all based in Austal’s shipyard in Balamban, Cebu.

How can I forget this facility when my good friend, the late Roberto “Bobby” Aboitiz, would invite us to witness what he has done when this facility was still called the FBMA Marine, Inc. The Austal Philippines facility is intended to meet the growing demand for commercial and defense vessels including the manufacture of large, high-speed aluminum passenger and vehicle passenger ferries when it took over the facilities of FBMA Marine, Inc.’s shipbuilding facilities.

Way back in January 7, 2011, I wrote that FBMA Marine, Inc., used to make high-tech vessels like the SuperCat fastcraft used in the Hong Kong-Macau route, specialized roll-on/roll-off fastcraft vessels used in the Netherlands and even in the Orkneys in England, as well as two high-tech sea slice SWATH (Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull) vessels designed by Lockheed Martin which now operate in the Gulf of Mexico to replace the helicopter shuttles as they are cheaper to operate even in 10-foot swells. I also wrote that this was the facility that the Philippine Navy needs because we can build ships here in Cebu which is much cheaper than building them outside the country.

At the opening ceremony for Austal Philippines in Balamban, Aboitiz Construction president and COO Alberto Ignacio Jr. said the project is an affirmation of the company’s solid track record as a contractor of quality shipbuilding structures. Ignacio said,

“Through this project, Aboitiz Construction has once again proven our capability to provide quality design and build services that meet the standards of our international shipbuilder clients. We do not only build, but our capability today includes designing and developing heavy industrial installations.

With this, we also fulfill our brand promise of advancing business and communities where we help our client increase their production and at the same time, create the effect of generating hundreds of local jobs while stimulating the local economy.”

Austal Philippine President Wayne Murray also expressed pride in the collaboration of Austal Philippines and Filipino contractors. He said, “Our Balamban shipyard is a showpiece and probably the most modern of its kind here in Asia and Aboitiz Construction helped us build this. Here, we bring together Austal’s most advanced maritime technologies and the capabilities of our Filipino colleagues. We are happy about the work that we have done here together and we are looking forward to continuing this good working relationship in our future projects.”

Back then in January 2011, I wrote that the Philippine Navy ought to secure brand-new and highly technological vessels from FBMA Marine. But then, it was the time of then President Benigno “PNoy” Aquino III who failed to recognize the importance of FBMA Marine.

How times have indeed changed! Today, we learned that Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has ordered six new Philippine Navy ships that will be built by Austal Philippines in Balamban as part of the modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Secretary Lorenzana said when he visited Austal Philippines last week, “It will be the first time the AFP will source new fleets from local designers and engineers.” Austal Philippines will build the Offshore Patrol Vessels of the Navy.

Secretary Lorenzana said the government has earmarked P30 billion for the six vessels and it was President Duterte who wanted these vessels to come from Cebu. The vessels offered by Austal are a larger variant of the cape-class patrol vessels used by the Royal Australian Navy and Australian Border Force. Indeed, this is really an effort to modernize the Philippine Navy especially at this time when the Navy still used World War II era naval ships. Even our latest Coast Guard Vessels that we got from the US Coast Guard during the time of President Aquino were commissioned in the sixties!

I’m referring to the three Del Pilar Class ships, which were originally the US Hamilton Class cutters that were turned over to the Philippine Coast Guard during President PNoy’s time. That was the time I wrote about FBMA Marine, Inc. but then President Aquino only wanted to accept old US vessels instead of purchasing brand new ones made in Cebu.

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