Tonnage Titans – 50. Pacific International Lines

YC Chang, right, founder and chairman of Singapore’s Pacific International Lines, hands over the reins to Teo Siong Seng, left. Credit: PIL

The privately owned Pacific International Lines (PIL) was founded in 1967 by YC Chang and is the only Singapore-owned container shipowner and liner operator.

According to IHS Markit data, PIL’s total fleet capacity is 4,216,066 gt, 911,312 gt of which is currently on order.

PIL’s fleet comprises mainly of container ships, but it also owns bulk carriers and general cargo vessels. It also has a controlling stake in Singamas, the world’s second-largest container manufacturer.

Founder YC Chang recently emerged as the world’s oldest billionaire, but he shows no sign of slowing down. Despite passing the leadership baton to his son, Teo Siong Seng (SS Teo), this year, Chang remains with PIL as chairman emeritus and advises the board.

SS Teo, who has participated in the family business since he was 15, attributes the company’s success to Chang’s foresight. The latter believed that China would be a huge market, even through periods of geopolitical turmoil when trading with China was difficult.

China has always been central to the company, and prior to founding PIL, Chang was trading secondhand ships in and out of the country and other emerging economies in the 1950s. In its early days, PIL ran routes from China to the Red Sea and east Africa, which, at the time, were very new and closed markets.

Teo recalled in a 2017 interview, “As a private company with limited capital, we could not at that time compete with the major shipping lines on the main European or North American trade routes.”

Today, this commitment to the Chinese market has paid off handsomely and PIL maintains close ties with China’s COSCO. Among other collaborations, PIL and COSCO signed a 12-vessel timecharter swap deal last year, aimed at creating synergies for both organisations amid the market surplus.

This exclusive and much-cherished relationship with COSCO has sparked talk that PIL is prime for acquisition by the former, but PIL is adamant this is not on the table.

“Never say never,” SS Teo said in 2017, but for now the company is keen to remain “alliance-neutral”, leaving it free to work with different parties to offer the best service.

In many ways, the company’s success mirrors Singapore’s economic boom, founded on hard work and tenacity.