Hailed by some as ‘the manning capital of the world’, the Philippines enjoys a reputation as a leading source of qualified seafarers. However, and surprisingly so, the country has never really been viewed as a major maritime hub – at least not in the same light as, say, Hong Kong or Singapore.It’s a situation that has long frustrated local entrepreneur Angelo Olondriz, who believes the Philippines has the potential to become a key location for shipbuilding, engineering and marine services and an attractive hotspot for recreational boat owners.
“The edge we really have is in our workforce,” Olondriz tells Ship & Boat International. “Most Filipinos have English as their secondary language – this is crucial for foreign manufacturers and an advantage we hold over our ASEAN neighbours. We are 600 miles from Hong Kong, which is one of the bigger boating countries in the region. At the moment, there is a shortage of berths in Hong Kong: the Philippines could capitalise on this.
“We could also capitalise on the fact that Hong Kong and mainland China have four seasons – we really should be attracting their boating public during the winter months. But again, you don’t really read anywhere how the Philippines is open to this type of tourism.”
And therein stands the first hurdle – a lack of widespread publicity regarding what the Philippines can offer. This isn’t a secret to all: as Olondriz explains, Tambobo Bay in Negros has become a haven for cruisers in recent years. Superyacht visits have also gradually increased. “We have recorded 78 superyacht visits since 2015, mostly entering through Subic Bay,” he says. “This is promising!”
It’s a promise that still needs to be built on with solid action and support, if the country is to seriously rival its ASEAN counterparts. Fortunately, Olondriz would appear to have the passion and drive to pull off this feat. In 2000, he formed Advanced Composite Systems, Inc (ACS), which manufactures the Hammerhead line of RIBs from its 1,300m³ facility in Subic Bay. “We [currently] employ 32 staff and have a capacity of about 50 boats a year,” Olondriz reveals, adding: “We are looking for a new location to move the factory to, as our boat models are getting bigger.” Approximately 90% of sales are to domestic clients, though the group has also received direct orders from Hong Kong and, according to Olondriz, intends to undertake “more of an international push in the coming five years”.
The Hammerhead range of RIBs comes in a variety of sizes and for varying customers – from weekend thrill-seekers to military/professional users, including the Philippines Special Forces. For instance, the 10m model features a displacement of 2.72tonnes and, when equipped with twin outboards, can achieve a top speed of 55knots.
With skin in the game, Olondriz has been able to identify some of the possible barriers to the Philippines’ growth as a maritime hub. “In the past, our national shipbuilding community was quite splintered, in my opinion,” he says. “We had a small manufacturing community and this translated to a very limited supplier network.”
While describing the Filipino government as being supportive of its domestic shipbuilding sector, more could be done to recognise the differences between vessel types, Olondriz opines. “The pleasure boat manufacturing industry has not been individually recognised as an industry,” he comments. “We are currently lumped together with shipbuilding and many are having to follow regulations pertaining to larger ships, which causes many of the problems that we face.”
“We have the natural infrastructure for coastal tourism – we just need to build on this,” he continues. “At the moment, taxes and certain laws are hindering the growth of this sector. We have outdated laws regarding chartering, as well as high import taxes that hinder its growth. We really need to adopt Thailand’s model and recognise the impact to the local economy that this industry can bring. Once we start opening our country up, the private sector will then take the lead in growing the industry.”
In addition to his work at ACS, Olondriz created the company Headsail Inc, which organises the country’s annual Sea-Ex boat show. Now in its 10th year (and scheduled to run between 5-7 October 2018), the exhibition has become a platform for boatbuilders, OEMs and service providers to network and promote their businesses. Headsail was also created to lobby for the interests of Filipino marine manufacturers at the governmental level.
Naturally, to realise its long-term ambitions, the Philippines will also have to readdress its approach to maritime education and training. “We have great naval architects who are dealing with the larger shipbuilding side of the industry, but still not that many on the composite and pleasure craft side, ” Olondriz says.
(A full version of this article is available in Ship & Boat International March/April 2018).