MANILA — The takeover of Hanjin Shipyard in Subic, which made the Philippines the fifth biggest shipbuilder in the world, may be finalized in the next month or two, Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Steven Robinson has said.
In a virtual briefing, Robinson said he was "hopeful" that some progress in the negotiations would be finalized in the "next month or two."
"It's still in kind of commercially in confidence so I cannot get too much into the details, but nevertheless, let's hope that there's a positive outcome, which will see Austal expand further here in the Philippines," Robinson added.
Austal is a major global shipbuilder and defense contractor based in Australia.
Earlier, reports said Austal and US-based Cerberus were jointly bidding to take over the Hanjin Shipyard, which was up for sale after its South Korean operator filed for bankruptcy in 2019.
Robinsons said Austal has committed to invest further in the Philippines and become a shipbuilder of choice not just for the country but also the wider region.
"That Hanjin facility, if that comes to the fore, would be a marvelous way to enable that in conjunction with the facility that it has already invested in significantly," he noted.
With the growing maritime relations between the Philippines and Australia, Robinsons also highlighted their stern position in preserving the freedom of navigation and trade in the contested South China Sea.
"Australia's got a position on the South China Sea and the West Philippine Sea and it's a principles-based position," he said.
"What we say is that all countries should subscribe to the rules and the norms and the laws that govern the free passage through international waters."
Robinsons added: "therefore, we are concerned if there's any action taken by any country that seeks to inhibit that free passage and the freedom of navigation."
He also said, "If we see anything that is unfortunate along those lines then Australia will express its views which we have done in the past and we will continue to do so."
Robinsons also emphasized that while "certain countries" would not like their perspectives on the matter, they are "taking a principled approach."
Manila has been ramping up its maritime presence in the West Philippine Sea with several western powers like the US and the United Kingdom also sending their own navies to the contested waters amid heightened military activities of China in the area.
The West Philippine Sea is the country's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, 90 of which is being claimed by China.
Beijing does not recognize the 2016 ruling of an arbitral tribunal in The Hague, which junked its "historical" claims to the disputed waters.
Aside from being a strategic naval position, the South China Sea also carries around a third of global shipping, making it an extremely important trade route.