“… And down the stretch comes Pipavav!”

“Pipavav Shipyard bags orders to build 26 Panamax vessels”

Our maritime journals don’t cover stories like this, so our natural reaction when we ran across this headline in an overseas news service was that someone produced a typo. Anyway, who ever heard of a place called “Pipavav”. It sounded like it might be one of those former Soviet states.

Well “Pipavav” wasn’t a typo and it wasn’t the name of a former Soviet state. The shipyard in question is in Gujarat, a State in India, and it’s an area that is developing as rapidly as any spot in the world.

According to the report, Golden Ocean, a Bermuda-based company, ordered four of those Panamax vessels, AVGI, a Greek shipping company ordered sixteen of them, and Setaf of France has also ordered four. These orders place Pipavav Shipyard at number two in the world, just behind South Korea but ahead of Japan and China, the company pointed out. [And ‘way ahead of the U.S., they shoulda said.]

Kidding aside, we weren’t in the least surprised by the above headline. About a year ago the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) announced what they called their “Eleventh Plan (2007-2012)”. 21 new port projects were envisaged in the plan which included setting up new ports, as well as adding new berths and terminals at existing ports. The reasoning behind this aggressive plan came to light when the GMB stated that, “The growing importance of smaller ports in handling cargo traffic has helped mitigate the problem of congestion at Major ports.” [Smaller ports! Imagine that!]

“Shipbuilding yards in Gujarat,” a follow-up story reported, “have apparently caught the fancy of major private sector players, who have calculated lucrative investment returns in the business. Although leading players … have already made their presence felt in the sector, over a dozen new players have lined up to set up shipbuilding and repair yards. …”

“According to the GMB study, Indian shipyards have been encouraged because countries like South Korea have huge backlogs of orders of 1,000 vessels at least.”

When we saw those reports we ventured to say that in the same way South Korea left the U.S. shipbuilding industry in its wash, so likewise would India. And so they have.

We also ventured to say – time after time after time – that the excuse that our shipbuilding industry couldn’t compete with foreign labor because our wages and costs were too high, was entirely false. We pointed out that the container ships Akers-Philadelphia built for Mattson Lines were built by U.S. workers being paid U.S. wages. And aren’t those ships the same size as the 26 vessels that the Pipavav Shipyard just “bagged”? Why didn’t U.S. shipbuilding interests put in a bid for them? Or better still, why don’t we subsidize our shipyards the way foreign countries subsidize theirs? We subsidize U.S. shipyards that build warships don’t we?