Keppel started as first S'pore-European shipping firm

The third version of Ocean Building housed Straits Steamship's offices. Ocean Financial Centre, built by Keppel Land, now sits on the site.
The third version of Ocean Building housed Straits Steamship's offices. Ocean Financial Centre, built by Keppel Land, now sits on the site.PHOTO: KEPPEL CORP

The Straits Steamship Company, formed as The Straits Navigation Company in 1890, broke frontiers as the first Singapore-European shipping enterprise in an industry dominated by European firms.

The firm, which would eventually end up being part of rig-building giant Keppel Corporation in 1983, started out with a nominal capital of $10 million and just five ships. But at the height of its success, Straits Steamship Company operated as many as 53 vessels.

In the 1970s, the company, already a listed entity, moved into ventures such as property, leisure, warehousing and distribution.

In 1983, KepCorp acquired an 82 per cent stake in Straits Steamship Company.Six years on, it became Straits Steamship Land, withdrawing from the shipping business and focusing on property instead.

The shipowning business was split off as a separate entity, Steamers Maritime Holdings, and listed on the Stock Exchange of Singapore. In 1997, Straits Steamship Land became Keppel Land, while Steamers Maritime became Keppel Telecommunications and Transportation.

Keppel Land was privatised and delisted from the Singapore Stock Exchange last month and is now 99.27 per cent owned by KepCorp.

KepCorp is one of the largest conglomerates here and among the world's largest builders of offshore oil rigs. It has a market capitalisation of $13.8 billion.

Jacqueline Woo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2015, with the headline 'Keppel started as first S'pore-European shipping firm'. Print Edition | Subscribe