Home' Ships and Shipping : May 2011 Contents © BAIRD PUBLICATIONS LTD 2011
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EDITORIAL MAY 2011
Having been seriously in this business for well over thirty years and
having studied it for nearly twenty years before that, I have, of course, seen
a lot of changes.
These have occurred at all levels, in all regions and across all sectors. Everywhere
from tugs to trawlers to tankers, from ports to pilot boats and from ferries to fire boats,
the change has been dramatic.
I seem to recall, for example, that in 1955 London was the busiest port in the world;
some fifty percent of the world's ships were built on the Clyde; and, seventy-five
percent of the world's ships were built in Western Europe. Even the United States had a
substantial commercial ship building industry.
Where are we now, half a century or so later? London is hardly a port anymore. The
Clyde would be lucky to produce a ship every three years and, even then, they are
usually three years late and at least 300 percent over budget. Its only customer is the
British Ministry of Defence. Western Europe would be lucky to build ten percent of the
world's ship. The poor old United States is hardly in the race. Its Jones Act has reduced
it to building almost entirely for local consumption and usually delivered at about four
times the world market price.
The ship owning, managing, design and crewing situations are much the same. Now
some 30 percent of the world's crews were born, bred and educated in the Philippines.
So it is with design: read this magazine and see where the vessels described are designed.
That, however, is probably the last remaining sector where Europe and North America
It was hard to predict this happening in the fifties and sixties but Asia was clearly
starting to move hard and fast in the seventies. The rapid rise of Japan gave a clear
indication as to the future.
Still, it has been quite amazing how many people and companies failed to see this
Asian commercial maritime tsunami coming. I clearly remember a vigorous, almost
vicious argument I had with two directors of a large (since bankrupted) German
shipbuilder at SMM in Hamburg in 1994.
They were adamant that Asians would not be able to build container ships, cruise
liners or gas tankers, for example. They arrogantly believed that only Europeans had the
intellectual or educational wherewithal to build such "complex" vessels.
They and their company went the way of all flesh. Ironically, one of them was
subsequently imprisoned for fiddling local German shipbuilding subsidies.
Asian shipbuilders, designers, engineers and tradesman have certainly proved that
they can build all kinds of ships and work boats. They can also build them well and at
good competitive prices. The same applies to Asian owners, managers and crews. They
can operate their vessels just as safely, economically and profitably, if not more so, as
Here, though, especially as an Australian who has seen some of the worst of it, I have
to admit to some sympathy for the Europeans and Americans. They have been subject
to much of the worst kind of suicidal union bastardry the world has ever known.
As one of my elderly Asian ship owner friends often remarks, "we Asians have a lot
to thank your western unionists for". He is dead right. He has also remembered, quite
correctly, that European mercantilism, particularly, the British brand, has taught Asians
some harsh but effective lessons.
While the reality of the modern maritime industry is that the present "centre of
the maritime universe" lies somewhere in South China, probably roughly at the
mouth of the Pearl River, the representative power of the industry clings doggedly
I have in mind institutions such as the IMO, BIMCO, Intertanko and Intercargo.
They are all vital and, admittedly, have significant Asian membership but they persist
with North Atlantic headquartered operations that are a long way from the action.
I was delighted to note, therefore, that three of the six names on the short list for
appointment as the next Secretary general of IMO are from Asia. Finally, a small sign
of the times. Whatever, it would not be difficult for any of them to show more
interest in the current Asian reality than has been evinced by the current
Perhaps Asian owners, builders and their supporting and supplying sectors have been
too busy building their businesses and taking advantage of the gift the European unions
have given them. Now, however, they should be taking a more forceful and active role
in the institutions mentioned above to ensure they better reflect the economic and
geographic realities of the modern maritime industry.
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