Wallem, the Hong Kong-headquartered ship management and shipping services firm, is weighing plans to set up operations in Qianhai, a special development zone in Shenzhen.
Jim Nelson, Wallem Shipmanagement managing director, said: "The people who are operating this development zone are looking for a high-profile ship manager to open a small ship management office in this area … We are talking about an office size to operate about 10 ships max."
While contacts are still at the exploratory stage, Wallem is hoping the Qianhai operation, if it starts, will be a springboard to develop domestic ship management business without the need for mainland partners.
"It is very early days. We are at least six months away before anything comes to fruition, that's if it happens at all. What we have … is a shed full of promises but no concrete actions … it may never happen," Nelson said.
But he said the promises included being given licences to manage ships involved in China's cabotage, or local coastal, trade as well as seafarer training. If that happened, Nelson said: "We would basically be a Chinese ship management company with no need to take on a joint venture partner."
Wallem is one of the world's top five ship managers, responsible for the day-to-day management of more than 400 vessels.
Ship managers like Wallem provide crew, organise ship repairs and supply the vessel with food and supplies in return for a fee from the shipowner.
Many ship management companies also have extensive training operations in countries such as China, India and the Philippines to ensure they have enough seafarers to go on ships they manage. The Qianhai operation would be Wallem's latest China-related venture.
Wallem linked with mainland tanker owner Nanjing Tanker in July to form NW Shipmanagement, a venture with 16 tankers in Singapore. Wallem also set up Cosco Wallem Shipmanagement in Qingdao in 2005 and opened a maritime training centre in 2006.
Senior Wallem management have long complained about the high office rents in Hong Kong and the pollution levels. But despite these issues they have always remained committed to staying in the city.