Wah Kwong was originally established in 1952 by T.Y.Chao, who had first entered the shipping industry in his home city of Shanghai, prior to moving to Hong Kong in 1948.
The global expansion of world trade which took place as a result of industrialisation following the end of the second world war offered many opportunities to shipowners, particularly in the Japanese market and Wah Kwong was at the forefront in taking advantage of these opportunities.
The Group's 1974 built "Glory Venture"
The "Lily Venture"
In the mid 1960’s, Wah Kwong placed it’s first order for a new ship at Sanoyasu Dockyard in Japan, the 16,000dwt bulkcarrier ‘NEW VENTURE’. This was the start of a long relationship with Japanese shipyards, financiers and charterers, which has seen Wah Kwong build in excess of a hundred vessels at Japanese shipyards.
In the late 1960’s, the group built the then new design of 60,000dwt panamax bulkcarrier, whilst another landmark newbuilding for the group was the construction of the HITACHI VENTURE, which at the the time of delivery in 1982 was one of the largest bulkcarriers ever built at 263,217 dwt and was conceived to provide the most efficient and cost effective sea transport of iron ore for a major steel producer.
By the early 80’s, the Wah Kwong fleet had expanded to over fifty modern vessels with a capacity in excess of 4 million dwt, comprising some of the largest and most sophisticated tankers and bulkcarriers then at sea, together with car carriers and containerships. The 1980’s saw a time of world economic recession and high oil prices. In 1984 and 1985, five charterers which had chartered a significant portion of the Wah Kwong fleet under long term time charters faced financial difficulty, resulting in their defaulting on the time charters with Wah Kwong. In 1986, the Wah Kwong Holdings Group agreed with its lending banks to restructure its debts. In the years that followed, Wah Kwong Holdings Group consolidated its fleet and again entered into a growth phase which included the disposal of all the old vessels owned and replacing them with newbuildings. The average age of the owned fleet dropped from 13 years in 1994 to 2 years old in 1998, and the Group has endeavoured to maintain a young average age ever since.
The Wah Kwong car carrier "European Venture" in 1980
Throughout this period, the company was listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. In 1999, CMB, an established business partner of Wah Kwong, through their subsidiary Bocimar Far East Holdings Limited became a substantial shareholder in Wah Kwong Holdings. A year later, Bocimar Far East Holdings and George Chao made a joint voluntary offer to acquire all the outstanding shares in Wah Kwong Holdings with a view to privatize Wah Kwong Holdings Group. The joint voluntary offer saw Wah Kwong Holdings delisted from the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in July 2000.
During 2000 and 2001, Bocimar Far East Holdings sold their shares to the Chao family, following which the business originally founded by T.Y.Chao was again controlled by the Chao family.
Wah Kwong Maritime Transport Holdings Limited today represents the shipowning interests of the Group and the start of the next chapter in the Wah Kwong story.