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Harbor Star eyes Asian expansion, new businesses

arnebListed Philippine tug boat operator Harbor Star Shipping Services, Inc is making a big foray overseas at the same time expanding into other businesses such as shipbuilding and marine waste management.

Harbor Star is hitching its overseas expansion plans on Malaysia, with company president Geronimo Bella Jr. describing the Southeast Asian country as a “hot” market for tugboat operations.

The company recently bid for the provision of tugboat assistance services for the ports of Johor and Tanjung Pelepas, Bella told reporters on the sidelines of the company’s first annual stockholders’ meeting as a listed company.

Harbor Star is also looking to offer ship-to-ship cargo transfer services in the Straits of Malacca while eyeing another project in the northwest of the Malaysian peninsula.

Bella said the company has set aside P80 million as downpayment for two vessels for use in its Malaysian expansion.

Corporate planning manager Dany Cleo Uson said total capital expenditure for the year is P180 million.

Harbor Star’s first Malaysian venture began in 2013 when it bought 45% of Malaysian marine services company Peak Flag Sdn Bhd.

Aside from Malaysia, Bella said Indonesia and Vietnam are being considered as expansion areas. And by the third quarter of the year, the company will revisit plans to enter Papua New Guinea and Myanmar, after putting them on hold last year.

The company is also eyeing the shipbuilding, ship repair, dry docking, pier inspection, and marine waste management businesses.

Bella said Harbor Star is in search of a place in Luzon to establish its shipbuilding and ship repair base. For such project, it will partner with Dutch firm Damen Shipbuilding.

In the first quarter of 2014, Harbor Star posted a first-quarter net income of P42.622 million, 35.47% higher than the P31.461 million a year ago, on the back of a six-fold jump in towing revenue.

Uson said towing services is the key driver to company growth. The lighterage business is also seeing growth, pushing the company to purchase additional barges.

By 2016, the company wants the harbor assistance segment of its business to drop to 65% from 81% last year.


Container barging project

Meanwhile, Bella said the company has secured “initial approval” for its container barging project designed as a solution to the Manila daytime truck ban that has restricted cargo movement at Manila ports.

Part of the proceeds of the company’s initial public offering last year went into the purchase of a tugboat for use in the container barging project, targeted to start by mid-July.

Bella earlier told PortCalls Harbor Star will transport by barge 200 twenty-footers from Manila International Container Port to Batangas and Bataan or Subic, and vice versa.

Harbor Star operates in 12 baseports in the country with a fleet of over 30 vessels. It has offices in Surigao and General Santos and will soon open in Dumaguete, Cebu, and Iloilo. — Roumina Pablo

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