After a tumultuous couple of years that saw investment plummet, the Turkish economy is on the mend and its shipbuilding industry is pushing ahead with a range of versatile and sometimes ground-breaking projects, reports Selwyn Parker
Based in Yalova in northwestern Turkey, the Tersan shipyard is building the country’s biggest ever floating dock, and one of its most advanced. At 284 m long and 51 m wide, the dock will be able to accommodate large vessels, such as Aframax medium-sized tankers. The project is a statement of confidence in an industry that until recently faced a very uncertain future.
On the back of a growing order book of newbuilds, Tersan has been steadily investing in facilities, to the point where it can now reasonably claim to be one of the biggest and most modern shipyards in Europe. Employing about 500 permanent staff, rising to 2,000 for big projects, Tersan is a typically versatile Turkish shipyard, building everything from Arctic fishing boats and ferries to stainless steel tankers, tugs and offshore supply vessels.
In February, the shipyard delivered the 122 m long Mokstrafjord, the third in a series of battery-powered roro passenger and vehicle ferries for Norway’s Fjord1 group. The yard is also building an LNG-powered hybrid roro ferry for Torgatten Nord.
Turkey has suffered a difficult time of late; the last two years have been marred by border quarrels, a failed coup and a series of dreadful terrorist attacks, all of which have hampered investment. The shipping sector has not been immune to these shocks, but it has quickly regained its confidence and Tersan’s renewed optimism mirrors that of the sector in general.
A proud heritage
Few nations are as proud of their shipbuilding history as Turkey. As the OECD has pointed out, the country’s shipyards date back eight centuries. But it was not until the early 1990s that the sector began to modernise and evolve into an internationally-recognised industry.
Today, most of the nation’s shipyards are located in the Marmara region, in particular Tuzla, Yalova and Izmit. As the OECD acknowledges, these areas have developed into dynamic shipbuilding centres. Latterly there has also been investment in shipyards in the Black Sea and Mediterranean area.
In tandem with the steady wave of investment (US$2.8Bn in the 15 years to 2016) Turkish shipyards have branched out from the repair and conversion work that was their bread and butter into newbuilds, notably bespoke contracts. And the newbuilds are getting bigger to include petroleum and product tankers, heavy freighters and multi-purpose container ships. As a result, Turkey regularly places in the top 10 countries in the world in terms of deadweight production, and sometimes higher in terms of the number of ships being launched.
As Turkey’s minister for maritime affairs Ahmet Arslan pointed out last year, in statistical terms the industry has more than doubled in the last 15 years. Turkey now counts 79 shipyards of varying sizes, compared with 35 in the early years of the new millennium. Combined, these yards have the capacity to build 4.5M deadweight tonnes of ships every year. The sector’s annual turnover hit US$2.5Bn in 2016 and, most importantly, the value of exports doubled between 2015 and 2016 to US$1Bn.
The industry appears to be gambling its future on the versatility that has carried it this far, rather than on series production. The Besiktas shipyard, one of the biggest in Turkey, prides itself on building everything from specialised vessels up to 26,000 deadweight tonnes and repairing “any type of vessel up to 382 metres”.
In the last few years, Besiktas has launched offshore support vessels, chemical tankers, tugs, work boats and pilot boats. Most of these are what the group describes as “added-value ships”. The shipyard says: “Besiktas concentrates on special-purpose vessels with tailor-made solutions.” It is also one of the busiest repair yards in the Mediterranean region, booking 150 dockings a year.
The Gemak Group is not far behind. Having repaired or converted well over 2,000 vessels since 1969, Gemak - with yards in Tuzla and Altinova - takes on contracts for simple bulk carriers, dredgers, semi-submersibles and drill ships among others.
The family-owned shipbuilder Tor Marine - now run by its fifth generation - is another versatile yard, with origins dating back to the 1880s, when Mustafa “The Carpenter” Torlak started building wooden boats in the Black Sea region. It is a sign of the times that recently the group has expanded internationally.
Tor Marine has built a fruitful relationship with Aberdeen-based naval architects Macduff Ship Design. Last year, the Turkish yard delivered to Saudi owners two 27 m pilot vessels that came off Macduff’s drawing board. In January 2018, Tor Marine completed a 16.8 m work boat, a stretched version of the standard 14.9 m general service vessels.
Meanwhile, other Turkish shipyards are profiting from an association with the Aberdeen firm. In the last two years, Tuzla-based RMK Marine has constructed two 19 m shallow-draught tugs, the latest of nine contracts based on Macduff designs that included five 10.10 m mooring tugs.
Elsewhere, the RMK yard turns out everything from superyachts - a niche in which Turkey has been gaining a reputation – to tankers, military ships (including the largest warship ever built in Turkey), asphalt carriers and tugs. Currently on RMK’s order book are chemical carriers and another asphalt carrier, the latter to be launched in early 2019.
Turkey has quietly become a go-to country for tugs. Bogazici Shipping, a specialist in these workhorses, has built customised harbour escort tugs for Poland’s LNG terminal at Swinoujscie on the Baltic Sea. Among its product range, Istanbul-based Bogazici includes tugs up to 105 tonnes.
Another tug specialist, the Sanmar shipyard, has constructed LNG-suitable tugs that comply with the Australian Maritime Authority’s tough safety regulations. Known as RAstar 3400s, these escort-class tugs were designed by Canada’s Robert Allan group and feature a sponsoned hull configuration and foil-shaped escort skegs. They have been deployed in Australia’s LNG plants.
Sanmar has developed a promising working relationship with Robert Allan. In March, the yard launched the first of a new class of tugs, the VSP VectRA 3000 series (VSP stands for Voith Schneider propeller). Designed exclusively for Sanmar, these vessels are targeting a global market.
The brief Sanmar gave to Robert Allan was for a 30.25 m VSP tug, under 500 gross tonnes, that would incorporate high-speed engines, a clutch between thruster and engine, and electronic controls. The vessel also had to be fully compliant with the 2006 Maritime Labour Convention for crew accommodation.
If the VSP VectRA 3000 fulfils its promise, it will be an excellent advertisement for the expertise of Turkish shipbuilders.
Another shipyard that has branched out from the fundamental business of repairs and conversion is Cemre, based in the newer shipbuilding hub of Yalova.
With an eye firmly on the future, Cemre focuses on highly customised, turnkey vessels such as the Esvagt Mercator, a 58 m service operation vessel delivered in late 2017. Designed for the Esvagt group, the snub-nosed ship will support 50 offshore wind turbines in Belgian waters.
Few vessels are more customised than the Esvagt Mercator. Equipped with the latest energy and fuel optimisation technology, as well as three safe-transfer boats for landing and boarding personnel at the turbines, it will be home to 36 people for up to six weeks at sea.
It is a bold project, and one that reiterates the optimism and confidence driving Turkey’s resurgent shipbuilding industry.