“Wunderbarge, Wunderbarge …”

“Der Spiegel” published an article last month that caught our attention. “The New Shipbuilding Boom” was the title, and its opening line was, “Shipbuilding, dismissed as a dying industry until recently, is now experiencing a record boom”. And there’s no question about that … if you exclude U.S. shipyard production.

“Like coal mining”, the story began, “shipbuilding was seen as a subsidized industry with no future; Its market had collapsed and it was only being kept alive with taxpayers’ money.

“It’s a completely different story today. Commercial shipbuilding is currently experiencing its biggest and most enduring boom in history. In 2005, shipyards worldwide received orders worth a total of $ 100 billion, and the total value of orders on the books is currently $ 264 billion. More than 5,300 new ships will be launched within the next three years. Average prices for new ships have jumped by more than half in the last four years …

“Largely unnoticed by the public, German shipping companies have become a dominant force, especially in the container business, which now plays an important role in global trade …

“Germans owned more than 1,000 container ships in 2006, making Germany’s container fleet the world’s largest by a wide margin – despite the fact that, for tax reasons, a majority of these vessels sail under foreign flags. The Chinese come a distant second, with only 261 container ships.

“German shipping companies are also busy expanding their leading role, placing by far the largest number of orders for new ships of all types – almost 1,000 ships, for a total value of $ 33 billion …

“Mass production migrated to Asia long ago, mainly for reasons of cost, but also because container ships are getting bigger and bigger … .”

German maritime authorities, however, aren’t overwhelmed by the size of these ships, nor are German investors. Thousands of German dentists and lawyers, the story goes on, are investing in funds and shipping companies. They know about shipbuilding. They know that back in World War II German designers had larger and much more complex vessels on drawing boards, such as the massive H-Class Battleships that would have seen service had the war progressed more favorably for their side. Blohm and Voss blueprints revealed these stunning specifications: Length – 1,133 ft.; Beam – 169 ft.; Displacement – 141,500 tons; Main Battery – 8 (20-inch) 508mm Guns. These vessels would have exceeded the Iowa-Class by about 100,000 tons, and would have greatly surpassed the sizes of today’s megaships and giant aircraft carriers.

Regrettably, all but U.S. interests are buying into this new shipbuilding boom. Savvy investors worldwide have taken advantage of the opportunities afforded by this upsurge in ship construction and ownership, while U.S. consumers and taxpayers are required to stand on the sidelines and forcibly provide windfall profits to those overseas investors. We’re not too bright.