Hong Kong: Late last year Kingsley Koo, a director at the venerable 104-year-old shipping firm Valles Steamship, became chairman of the Hong Kong Shipowners Association (HKSOA), one of the most vocal shipping organisations in the region. He has not hung around, making very plain that a significant part of his two-year remit will be to get Hong Kong firmly back on the maritime map, something that seemingly dovetails neatly with the plans of current chief executive of the territory, C Y Leung.
“My aim as chairman is to promote Hong Kong shipping to the world,” he tells Maritime CEO. Koo has travelled to various shipping centres around the world to highlight Hong Kong’s advantages. He and members of the Hong Kong government will also be at Posidonia, the big Greek show, this June.
“We are a major maritime centre,” Koo says, while acknowledging that local rivals Singapore and Shanghai both have plenty to offer too.
“It is up to a company to decide what is ideal for their own operational needs,” he says. “Hong Kong is a good maritime centre,” he stresses, “as it has all the support functions here – owners, managers, bankers, lawyers, as well as a very good local work force.”
Koo says that the current Hong Kong government is more aware of shipping’s contribution to the local economy, and the HKSOA is working closely with the authorities to push maritime initiatives. Moreover, Beijing is now promoting Hong Kong as a shipping centre. Koo is especially happy with last year’s decision by the local government to earmark HK$100m for aviation and maritime training to develop local talent.
On top of promoting Hong Kong, Koo is looking to address common issues affecting HKSOA members, especially regulatory ones such as the environment, ballast water, and ports of refuge.
“The environment is a major concern of the local shipping community,” Koo says, noting that next year a law comes in requiring ships to switch fuel while berthing and at anchor in Hong Kong.
Koo is a director at family controlled Valles, as is his brother Eric, while elder brother David is the managing director, and also a former HKSOA chairman. Koo’s father, KM Koo, one of the last of the old guard of founding members of the HKSOA, passed away four years ago. The next generation at Valles is already being immersed in the world of shipping, with David’s son and Eric’s daughter working at the company. “They are trying to learn the business now,” comments Koo.
“As a family shipping company, we are very conservative,” says Koo. “We do not spend unnecessarily. We maintain a similar fleet size over the years that we feel comfortable with. We go for replacement tonnage not expansion.”
The fleet today is made up of two panamax bulkers, eight aframaxes, three MR product tankers and there are two LR product tankers on order. The fleet has an average age of less than six years.
Koo is not optimistic about the freight rate environment, noting that supply and demand still remain too imbalanced. “There’s too much shipbuilding capacity. Owners are placing orders speculatively. There’s too much speculation for what is unnecessary tonnage,” he concludes.
Koo graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a masters degree in naval architecture and marine engineering and a masters degree in shipbuilding and shipping management. He joined classification society American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) as a plan approval engineer in New York, and worked with ABS in various locations. Prior to joining Valles, Koo headed up ABS’s Greater China operations.
NEED TO KNOW: Valles Steamship
Founded in Shanghai in 1910, moved to Hong Kong in 1949. Privately held by the Koo family. The fleet today is made up of two panamax bulkers, eight aframaxes, three MR product tankers plus two LR product tankers on order.