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Bobby Wong, Country Manager, ABS Singapore

12.12.2013 / Energyboardroom

Bobby Wong, Country Manager at marine and offshore classification society ABS, clarifies why Singapore remains the regional offshore hub, and expands on how the company intends to use Singapore as a platform for further growth.

At the end of 2012, ABS was the second largest class society with a classed fleet of nearly 12,000 commercial vessels and offshore facilities. What is the strategic importance of Singapore to the organization’s regional operations?

Singapore is the ideal base of regional operations for ABS for a number of reasons. This has much to do with the fact that there is a sea of marine- and offshore-based manufacturers and operators in Singapore. As an organization dedicated to promoting the security of life, property and the natural environment, being in close proximity to our clients and industry suppliers is critical.

In addition, Singapore offers a unique blend of East and West, with an open and efficient business environment. The local government plays a highly proactive role in developing and promoting business opportunities, especially in the maritime sector. Singapore’s strategic location also offers companies enhanced regional market access in terms of physical connectivity and through an extensive network of international agreements.

Over the years, regional countries have increased investments and activities in the marine and offshore industries in a bid to capitalize on the lucrative industry and its spin-off potential. To what extent can Singapore maintain its positioning as a marine and offshore hub?

Keppel Offshore & Marine, along with Sembcorp Marine, are big players in the offshore rig building industry, accounting for some 70 percent of the global market share for jackup rigs. Singapore also has 70 percent of the global market for the conversion of floating production storage offloading (FPSO) units. Indeed, Singapore’s success in the industry has attracted stiff competition from Chinese and South Korean players, for instance. These new competitors generally have a cost advantage due to the lower costs of labor they incur while Singapore has to contend with rising labor costs in its local yards.

Despite these emerging threats, I believe Singapore will maintain its leadership position. Not only does Singapore enjoy high levels of productivity, but it also focuses on niche market segments that require investments in R&D and innovation. Take, for instance, Keppel which is already designing jackup rigs for Arctic offshore service. In addition to this, Singaporean yards also are recognized for their commitment to high-quality manufacturing and services – a decisive characteristic in the marine and offshore industries. Hence, although cost is an important consideration for rig owners, brand track record and quality are also key concerns. In this regard, Singapore has earned its recognition as the hallmark of safety, quality and innovation in the marine and offshore industries.

Furthermore, we are working closely with partners such as Keppel and Sembcorp to assist them with achieving some of the industry’s fastest rig delivery times. As an integral part of the production process, ABS has a dedicated team of proactive surveyors and engineers on the ground that provide customers with the full range of services in a timely and efficient manner while maintaining the highest attention to detail. Our efforts support our clients’ ability to consistently deliver quality and reliable assets on schedule or even ahead of schedule as is often the case. The potential losses that would result from delayed projects help to offset the cost premiums relative to the competition.

It is a combination of all these factors that will continue to position Singapore ahead of its aspiring competitors as a marine and offshore hub.

ABS has a committed role in advancing and promoting production efficiency and performance. This can be seen through the establishment in 2013 of the Global Performance Center (GPC) in Singapore, which focus on energy efficiency, vessel performance and regulatory compliance by supporting and providing seminars, workshops and client consultations.

Considering the stagnating shipping industry that is contrasted by the booming offshore industry, what is the relative importance of the latter to your current operations?

As we are committed to quality, health and safety, we place equal importance on all the aspects of our services. Integrated Management Systems (ISM), International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS) security services and Compliance with the International Labor Organizations (ILO) Maritime Labor Convention (MLC) are only a few of the non-offshore activities we offer which are of great importance to ABS.

We concurrently place a great deal of emphasis on health and safety in the conduct of our business. We are defined by a core set of traits that makes us truly unique and is as important today as it was in the past. Our vision is driven by safety and we aspire to be recognized as a global innovator, turning tools and practices into practical solutions to support the industries we serve.

In achieving these goals, we are continuously investing in our international workforce and training personnel to the highest level. We have a global scope but a local presence and we empower our people to make local decisions. We also work closely with our stakeholders as dependable, flexible and efficient partners in defining the best safety solutions. Because we seek to promote the security of life, we expect the best in quality and people. Although problem solving is good, anticipating them is even better. That is why we do both through continuous research and development through our global research centers, including the Singapore Innovation and Research Center (SIRC),  to stay ahead of the curve.

With over three decades of industry experience, what are some of the most significant developments you have witnessed?

The scale and scope of industry projects has expanded at an impressive rate, with operations becoming increasingly more complex. In addition to this, technology also is playing an increasingly important role in the offshore industry, both to achieve today’s goals and manage the complexities of the projects themselves. On the back of these advancements, we have the capabilities which were previously thought to be unachievable. Rig owners now are able to operate in harsh environments and ultra-deep waters, for instance. In addition, the rate at which the boundaries are being pushed, going into harsher and more challenging environments, is also impressive. For this reason, ABS is constantly investing in the continuous development of its  engineers’ skill sets and capabilities to cope with and anticipate industry trends and to proactively support our customers in overcoming the challenges they face today and tomorrow.

Singapore is a crowded and competitive market, particularly in the marine and offshore industries. How does ABS differentiate itself from the rest in terms of client acquisition and retention?

ABS enjoys a majority market share in Singapore. Our organization’s focus and dedication to client service delivery underpins our leadership, locally and globally. In fact, we have recently established a unique customer support group that aims to ensure that our clients have access to all the support they might need in their activities from highly experienced industry professionals.

Although proactive customer support is not new to our industry, what sets us apart is our personal approach. Our support personnel are highly experienced professionals who have many years of close contact with local owners and suppliers. This approach enables us to provide more than just a service; it also allows us to build long-term relationships  with our partners and develop a deep understanding of their business dynamics and requirements. We encourage our field personnel to continue applying their expertise through our support department, providing an unparalleled personal touch in our services.

Looking towards ABS’s Innovation and Research Center in Singapore (SIRC), what are some of the themes areas are you focused on?

SIRC (formerly known as the Singapore Offshore Technology Center) was established in 2006. Fundamentally, the research center is designed as a platform for collaboration with government, educational and research institutions to explore new technology developments that will help propel the industry forward. In order for these joint projects to be successful, we depend on financial support from the Singaporean authorities which have thus far been highly supportive of advancing the country’s status as a marine and offshore hub.

To date, we have completed half a dozen joint industry projects (JIPs) and joint development projects (JDPs) and another eight are currently in the pipeline. We have four key focus areas. Floating structures is one research domain where we examine the global performance and strength of floating structures such as drillships, FPSOs and semisubmersibles – all major Singaporean export products.  Another focus area is fixed structures, also a key product of Singapore. Working closely with industry leaders such as Keppel and Sembcorp Marine, we study the structures’ behavior and the dynamics of their foundations. This demonstrates how in many cases, we often work closely with industry players, local ship yards and local universities.

Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) is another popular research domain looking at, for instance, highly advanced hydrodynamic tools. Although research and development into this field can be quite time consuming and costly, we have a highly experienced team on board and their efforts are demonstrating promising potential. Finally, as the world’s E&P companies begin to look toward the Arctic for resources, we are investing in the research of structure and asset dynamics in cold and extremely harsh conditions. In addition, we have a number of other departments designed to support challenges associated specifically to the offshore industry.

When it comes to R&D activities in the offshore industry, given the harsh operating environments and the strict regulatory standards, Norway has for a long time been viewed as the leader in innovation and cutting-edge technologies. Nevertheless, Singapore’s incessant drive to remain ahead of the pack has seen the local players make significant investments in propelling the industry forward in terms of technology and competencies, particularly with respect to the offshore structures in which it is already a leader. Although it is not competing with R&D hubs like Norway per say, Singapore is certainly catching up in terms of R&D capabilities, reasserting the island-state’s positioning as a marine and offshore hub.

As the country manager for ABS, how do you want to position Singapore within the organization?

Our goal is to position ABS Singapore as a one-stop center for our customer s; all of our expertise is present here, all services can be provided and decisions made here locally. We remain close to our customers. ABS is a proactive supporter to the marine and offshore industries, from both a technical and manpower perspective. In doing so, we are committed to building lasting relationships with our clients and providing them with dedicated support services to assist them with meeting their tight delivery schedules.

To read more articles and interviews from Singapore, and to download the latest free report on the country, click here.



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