According to the Association of German Shipbuilders (VSM), European commercial shipbuilding will have completely disappeared from the market for almost all ship types within the next ten years. Unless drastic measures are taken now. In this opinion piece, former Managing Director of Lloyd’s Register London and SWZ|Maritime editor, Willem de Jong, gives his thoughts and ideas on European shipbuilding.
De Jong’s opninion piece was originally published in SWZ|Maritime’s July-August 2022 issue under the heading Global news and can be read in full below. SWZ|Maritime is curious about your thoughts and ideas on this subject. Please send any commentary to firstname.lastname@example.org.
De Jong (pictured on the right) writes:
Every Monday, I happen to receive a list of all ships ordered worldwide in the preceding week. A complete list giving comprehensive details of ship type, size and capacity, building yards, engine make, flag, owners, etc. Very interesting information, but at the same time very worrisome for an interested European reader.
It shows that over the last few years, all ships of any importance were ordered at Asian yards, with just a few exceptions. Only orders for small ships, yachts, and special craft were placed with European yards. No tankers of any type, no bulk carriers, no car carriers, no container ships, no ferries, no reefer ships, just vessels of what one generally calls of miscellaneous type and mostly small. In other words, no more large commercial ships from European yards. It certainly tends to confirm the VSM statement.
Also read: ‘There’s just ten years to go for shipbuilding in Europe’
Too late for subsidies
What to do about it while also taking into account the changing political situation in our world? The Ukrainian war makes us think about our dependencies and its potential dangerous consequences. Do we allow ourselves to be completely dependent on Asian yards, with China as the main player? Ending up without an adequate infrastructure to build such ships and running the risk of also losing our marine equipment industry and design offices? For all our larger commercial ships? Which carry eighty to ninety per cent of the world trade?
I cannot believe that this is what the EU should allow to happen. How would it also affect our capability to build naval ships? Which drastic measures could turn the tide? European subsidies? That would be very expensive, I fear. Too expensive and most probably leading to a subsidy war with China and Korea that Europe is bound to loose. I think it is too late for subsidies. What else?
Also read: ‘If suppliers follow shipbuilding, shipbuilding in Europe is finished’
European Jones Act?
The American Jones Act was always a dirty word in most maritime circles. As a believer in free trade, I used to hate the idea. But Europe should consider something similar at the present time. Not as strict and general as the American one perhaps, but with sufficient teeth to force the market in such a way that we would be able to revive part of our large shipbuilding.
A kind of Jones Act for certain ship types, such as ferries, short sea trade ships, certain types of tankers, container ships up to a chosen size, etc. Not a popular idea for most of us and one with many and important disadvantages, while it is also difficult to introduce and to maintain.
I would love to see alternatives leading to the same goal to avoid that the VSM statement comes true. Do you know such alternatives? If so, we will happily report them in our magazine!
Also read: SWZ|Maritime’s June 2022 issue: European shipbuilding – Let the data speak for themselves