Willy Persico, founder and CEO of South Africa's Southern Wind Shipyard, has passed away at the age of 79.

The Italian entrepreneur and naval engineer was well-known in the world of sailing and shipbuilding, having founded Cape Town-based Southern Wind in 1991. He was also a former president of Rodriguez Shipyards.

“I like to believe that I’ve made many friends and clients happy,” Persico once said.

In respect of his way of being reserved and private, Southern Wind has issued a statement to say that silence speaks more than any words.

“Incredulous we learned today from his family that for some months Willy had hidden a great concern for his health,” it says. “Our thoughts go to them, to their friends and to all those who in recent years have been fortunate enough to know him and appreciate his greatness and generosity.

“Willy leaves a precious legacy that all of us friends and collaborators will know how to collect and carry on. Good wind Willy.”