“Far from the madding crowd”

Gujarat. Remember? Gujarat is a State in India and we called this to your attention back in our Vol. X, Art. 4 commentary. It was all about a report in Exim News Service concerning the Gujarat Maritime Board’s (GMB) announced plan to construct over half-a-dozen new shipyards.

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

Then we heard that Indonesian entrepreneur Oentoro Surya is planning to build a shipyard in Batam, Indonesia, just south of Singapore. Mr. Surya is president and director of Arpeni Pratama Ocean Line, a company that has grown into a fleet of more than four dozen vessels, and it’s quite possible that he knows a little something about the maritime industry. Like, how profitable it is.

And we know how much Mr. Chang Yung-fa knows about the industry. We spoke about him in yesterday’s commentary. Declaring that he has ruled out orders for vessels larger than his Group’s largest vessels, Mr. Chang pointed to a shortfall of at least 60 smaller ships that he intends to add to his Evergreen fleet in the coming years. In order to address this shortfall he likewise intends to build a shipyard, and he revealed that his Group is already discussing this proposition with the Chinese government.

Criticizing the industry’s rush to order mega-ships, Mr. Chang said, “Operators that follow the crowd are likely to suffer once the recession sets in. When the lull comes, the huge ships will suffer instability”.

South Korea was a wasteland just a few years ago, but now hosts the world’s largest shipbuilders. Enlightened, energetic and enthusiastic people like Mr. Chang, Mr. Surya and the GMB officials, starting from scratch as South Korea did, intend to meet with similar success.

When South Korea was a wasteland the U.S. could boast of dozens and dozens of profitable shipyards. We were the envy of the world. Workers at Fore River, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Sparrow’s Point and Mare Island, to name a few, were among the world’s greatest shipbuilders back then. But that was then, and this is now.

“… huge backlogs of orders of 1,000 vessels at least …,” the report stated, yet no one in this country is reaching for the brass ring because our officials have the same obsession with mega-ships as the “crowd” Mr. Chang criticizes. Lacking the foresight of Mr. Chang, Mr. Surya and the GMB officials, we’ve thrown in the towel because “we can’t compete”. That’s nonsense. Even though we’ve destroyed some of the finest shipyards the world has ever seen, this country can still boast of close to 50 shipyards capable of building our patented, more practical, flexible, adaptable and profitable container ships. Want proof? Check out Tim Colton’s “Directory of U.S. Shipyards”.

We have the “ways”, but not the wills.