Rio de Janeiro-based Petrobras placed the contract with the Brasfels shipyard on Brazil's southern coast, which five years ago was lying idle and overrun with weeds. Petrobras may pay as much as 25 percent more for the 42 tankers it needs over the next decade than it would have if they were made in South Korea or China but Brazilian owners are forced to comply with orders from President Lula da Silva to use only local shipbuilders to build its rigs and vessels. Lula's directive, issued soon after he took office in 2003, aims to boost employment and foster a revival of shipbuilding in South America's biggest economy.
Using Brazil's outdated shipyards will cost Petrobras to pay about $150 million for a tanker with the capacity to transport as much as to 200,000 metric tons of oil which compares with $95 million for a similar vessel built in China or $120 million for one made in South Korea or Singapore. While Petrobras may pay more for the vessels it plans to order this year, the contracts have been prepared in a way that will encourage shipbuilders to become more efficient in the long run, according to Petrobras. It is intended to create incentives for the sector to modernize and improve its technology and motivate the yards to reach the level of international competitiveness.
Even if it wanted to buy ships from South Korea or China, Petrobras would have to wait. Record orders for new vessels last year mean Asia's shipbuilders won't take on new work until 2008. Last month, 11 Brazilian shipyards, including the Brasfels yard, told Petrobras they wanted to bid for contracts to supply the vessels by 2015. In many cases, the shipyards have teamed up with international companies, including Ulsan, South Korea-based Hyundai Heavy Industries, the world's largest shipbuilding company. Thanks to contracts from Petrobras, which has budgeted spending of $6.9 billion on platforms and tankers from 2003 through 2015, Brazil's shipyards now employ 25,000 workers, or 50 times more than in 1998, and the number is expected to double in the next two years.