SHIPBUILDER Austal Philippines is investing $20 million to expand its operations in the country as it bids to supply ships for the Philippine Navy.

Austal Philippines, the local unit of Australian shipbuilder Austal Ltd., said it is looking to expand its shipyard in Balamban, Cebu to fuel its growth.

“Since 2012, we’ve expanded the land area, we’ve reclaimed land and we built new sheds that allow increased production… The $20 million is mainly preparing the land, building the new buildings, hiring new people and training them,” Austal Marketing Manager Paul Sparke told reporters Tuesday.

“Our strategy is to continue to build commercial ships. We’re also bidding for the OPVs (offshore patrol vessels) for the Navy,” he added.

The company said the fresh investment is expected to be completed next month.

“This expansion will last to operate for the foreseeable future with enough space now to deliver the OPVs as well as our commercial contract commitments. So this will keep us going for a number of years, but we’ve also got space and ability to expand further, Mr. Sparke said.

Austal Philippines intends to increase its employee base to more than 1,000 people from 900 at present, as it expects to receive more orders for ships in the coming years. In particular, the company is hoping to seal the deal to deliver six OPVs for the Philippine Navy.

“If we win this contract (with the Philippine Navy), we’d certainly be looking at…maybe another 100-200 (workers) to help build the new ships,” Mr. Sparke said.

“We’re going through a process at the moment. We’re expecting that they’ll be putting out a request for tender later this year. At the moment, they’ve put out a request for information, so we’re talking to the Navy about what they would like, and we’ve forwarded our design for the Philippine Navy,” he added.

The Navy’s patrol vessels are part of the modernization program being undertaken by the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Austal said it has provided a similar type of vessel to the Royal Australian Navy and the Australian Border Force, but the one for the Philippines Navy is a larger variant of the Cape-class boats.

The company already built 17 ships from its operations in the Philippines since it started in 2012.

Majority of these ships, or 14 out of 17, were exported to countries such as Germany, United Kingdom, South Korea and Taiwan. There are also current orders for ships to be delivered to Norway and Spain.

In the Philippines, Austal has two local clients: 2GO Group, Inc. and VS Grand Ferries Corp. — Denise A. Valdez