Think Outside the Box(ships)!

In the December issue of the MARITIME REPORTER and Engineering News, the “Great Ships of 2006″ are being featured. The main particulars of 16 vessels are given and only one of these ships was built in a U.S. shipyard by U.S. craftsmen. The tanker “Overseas Houston” was built by Aker Philadelphia Shipyard for Aker American Shipping.

In the December issue of MARINE LOG, the “Distinctive Ships 2006″ are featured, 20 in number along with an “at-a-glance” description of each, and only two of the twenty were made in the USA. The above-mentioned “Overseas Houston” and Matson Navigation’s 2,410 TEU containership “Maunalei”, were both built by Aker Philadelphia Shipyard.

We dispute the use of the terms “Great” and “Distinctive”. These vessels are being punched out like cupcakes and are no more than a variety of container vessels carrying liquids, gases and solid cargos. Crewed by a few dozen seamen, some of whom are barely-trained transients, these uncomplicated vessels do little more than ferry goods from point A to point B.

Those terms, “Great” and “Distinctive” belong exclusively to the those vessels turned out by U.S. shipyards in the years leading up to, and including, this nation’s 1941 through 1944 involvement in World War II. Our shipbuilders turned out more carriers and more super battleships than all other countries combined. These capital ships weren’t designed to be freighters of one kind or another. On the contrary, each of these complicated vessels required thousands, not dozens, of trained seamen in order to carry out the wide variety of missions distinctive to each class.

Smaller cruisers and destroyers were built by the hundreds during these war years, and the different types of operations assigned to these vessels required naval architecture, design and armament far more sophisticated than anything required by 21st century “box ships”. And while these sophisticated men-of-war were being built in U.S. World War II shipyards these same yards found the time and the talent to turn out cargo-carrying vessels. Victory Ships, Liberty Ships and LST- types were built by the hundreds and functioned in much the same way that today’s container vessels do … when they weren’t under attack, that is.

So why have U.S. shipyards fallen by the wayside? Could it be a lack of talent? Hardly. William O. Gray submitted a very interesting letter to the editors of MARINE LOG, and he reminded us of the American geniuses who made invaluable contributions to the shipbuilding industry during the declining years of the U.S. yards:
• D. K. Ludwig, Elmer Hann and W. Edwards Deming pioneered simpler design and manufacturing efficiency.
• Early LNG vessels were designed by Jim Henry.
• Bulkers and self-unloaders were designed by Ole Skaarup.
• … and, of course, there was Malcom McLean …

[No, it’s not a lack of talent that pushes us to the rear of the pack. It’s a lack of leadership.]