A Fleeting Opportunity?

This announcement by reporter D. V. Maheshwari and appearing in India’s AHMEDABAD Newsline last week caught our attention.

“Team visits to select shipbuilding yard site”. That was the headline, and it began as follows:

“Bhuj, April 30: With the global shipbuilding sector experiencing an unprecedented boom, the Central government has decided to build two world-class shipbuilding yards, one on the west and another on the east of the country’s more than 5,000-km long coastline.

“For this, the Union Shipping Ministry has appointed a high-level committee of top officials. The panel began its search for a suitable site for the proposed Rs 2,000-crore yard on the west coast by visiting Kandla and Mundra this weekend …”

As the story went on and on, we became more and more discouraged. Here’s a country that couldn’t even tell port from starboard until recently, and now its “top officials” are about to design two world-class shipyards. For several generations Americans have been designing and building the biggest and best vessels the world has ever seen, but because we’ve allowed nincompoops to take charge we’ve turned over our leadership role to countries that are just now getting their feet wet.

World Maritime News printed an article with this headline last month:

“House Panel Leader: Fate of U.S. Shipyards Uncertain”… and then spelled out the bad news.

Read it and weep.

“The chairman of a key house committee rang alarm bells on April 5 over the state of the U.S. shipbuilding industry, saying there are too many shipyards chasing too little work. With an estimated 40 percent reduction in workload since the end of the Cold War, the nation’s six major private shipyards have been forced to operate inefficiently at abnormally low rates of production. As a result, the Navy has proposed a new shipbuilding plan aimed at stabilizing the industry and increasing the size of the fleet. Annual shipbuilding funding would roughly double by 2011, reaching $ 17.4 billion. But many lawmakers have expressed deep skepticism that a major funding boost is feasible in light of soaring war costs, mounting budget deficits and pressing domestic issues. Without a huge budget increase, the Daily Press reported, the shipyards will have little new work for underused facilities. The result will be excessive overhead costs that drive up the price of ships and hinder the Navy’s effort to enlarge the fleet. At a subcommittee hearing on the state of the shipbuilding industry, Navy officials dismissed consolidation as politically impractical and a potential national security concern. The Navy, officials noted, had proposed a winner-take-all competition last year to build a next-generation destroyer. But Congress blocked the plan amid concerns that the losing yard would be shut out of the destroyer business and face closure.”

India’s government, our government, every government in fact, directs economic policy. The prevailing attitude with our leaders though is “Hooray for me, to heck with the country”, and some $ 10 billion every week is misdirected toward military aggression, instead of toward peaceful and profitable endeavors. Our Vol. IV, Art. 18 asked that we “Just think …”. Here it is again.

“Here’s something to think about. Suppose, just suppose, that U.S. voters/taxpayers had a chance to determine the future of our nation’s shipbuilding industry. One option would be to build, in a single shipyard, another $ 3.5 billion nuclear aircraft carrier for the Navy, and the other option would be to build, in a number of smaller shipyards, for about the same $ 3.5 billion, about one hundred small-to-medium-sized container ships. The voters/taxpayers themselves would bear the full cost of the Navy’s carrier, of course, because U.S. citizens are always required to pay for warships. The container ships, on the other hand, would be sold to real, live customers. These container ships, believe it or not, wouldn’t cost us taxpayers one red cent. You don’t need a calculator for that one.

– Just think of the number of additional employment opportunities that would be created if a number of struggling U.S. shipyards were to be expanded and refurbished for the construction of these highly flexible and astonishingly profitable vessels.
– Just think of the ease with which these shallow-draft vessels could utilize the many forsaken smaller and forgotten U.S. seaports.
– Just think of the number of employment opportunities that would be created at those presently under-utilized ports.
– Just think of the billions of taxpayer dollars that would no longer be required for dredging projects in those huge, so-called hub-and-spoke ports.
– Just think of the billions of dollars that would be saved in unnecessary transportation costs from those distant “king ports” to end-users.
– Just think of the billions of dollars in road repairs that would be saved by reducing that unnecessary transportation between the “king port” and the end-users.
– Just think of the diminished air pollution resulting from the reduction in truck traffic.

“Before you raise the objection that the U.S. worker cannot compete with foreign labor, let us remind you that U.S. workers at Kvaerner’s shipyard in Philadelphia are doing just fine, thank you. And an even more important consideration is the fact that these patented container ships of ours are … ours. No one could come in with a competitive price because the U.S. owner of the worldwide patents would exclude foreign shipbuilders. Who would be the beneficiaries of this economic cornucopia? All those behind the protective shield of the Jones Act. It amounts to a win-win-win situation.

“And before you raise the objection that this program would weaken our first line of defense – the Navy – think about this:
– Our shipbuilding capabilities will be greatly expanded as a result of the stimulus our patented design gives to our struggling U.S. yards.
– The number of trained shipyard workers will be significantly increased because of the employment opportunities generated by our revived commercial shipbuilding program.
– The resulting boost to the nation’s economy will allow more taxpayer dollars to be assigned to our national defense … and for the first time ever, the construction of new carriers, submarines and DDXs will be quite affordable … and quite welcome, thank you.”