The Eleventh Hour (A reprint of Vol. X, Art. 4 – Jan. 9, 2006)

Ever hear of Gujarat? Probably not, but the folks there are years ahead of us when it comes to planning for the future.

Gujarat is a State in India with a population of about 50 million, and that’s all we knew until recently. What caught our eye a few months ago was a report from Delhi’s Exim News Service about what Gujarat authorities are calling the “Eleventh Plan (2007-2012)”.

“Gujarat,” the report began, “which has the highest number of ports dotting its coastline, including the Major Port of Kandla and the private sector-run Port Pipavav and Mundra, is slated to get 21 of the new port projects envisaged in the Eleventh Plan (2007-12). The projects include setting up of new ports, construction of additional berths and development of new terminals at the existing ports.

“The growing importance of smaller ports in handling cargo traffic has helped mitigate the problem of congestion at Major Ports …” the report stated.

The logic in that last sentence just doesn’t seem to register with U.S. port authorities and maritime consultants, who’ve chosen instead to brush aside the findings of their opposite numbers overseas.

But those ‘furriners’ aren’t just blowin’ smoke. A prominent headline in last week’s Exim News Service reads this way: “Over a dozen investors line up to build new shipbuilding yards in Gujarat”, and the article followed up with further information which, of course, will also be brushed aside by U.S. maritime and shipping authorities.

“Shipbuilding yards in Gujarat,” the article went on, “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 …

“Nearly 15 companies … have shown interest in the Gujarat Maritime Board’s (GMB) proposal to construct over half-a-dozen 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.”

Ah, yes. South Korea. In 1972, when South Korea did little, if any, shipbuilding, the government viewed it as an industry that could drive its economic engine. With merely an aerial photograph of the fishing village, super-salesman Chung Ju-yung, the founder of Hyundai, persuaded a Greek shipping magnate to purchase two cargo vessels. Two years later a port city blossomed, and now, thirty-five years later, Hyundai’s main yard covers more than 1200 acres. That’s right, 1200 acres.
In the same way South Korea left the U.S. shipbuilding industry in its wash, so likewise will India.