Kathrin Lau, Editor in Chief

Editorial of Ship&Offshore 5/2023: From junior partner to forerunner?

With Kormarine in Busan, Europort in Rotterdam and Marintec in Shanghai, the last quarter of this year sees three major maritime events, two of them in the Asian hemisphere. Typical for a non-SMM year, the maritime calendar includes multiple smaller events rather than one big one.

Will there be big announcements and innovations to be expected at the show? Probably not. Will they offer the perfect platform to recap the past few months and continue to address both the challenges in our industry and ways of tackling growing geo-political tensions? Absolutely.

In particular, the discussions and the need to find suitable pathways in this context naturally continue to be about the protectionism in China’s shipbuilding industry and the country’s threatening behaviour towards Taiwan, the United States and thus also NATO. The question of possible alternatives, not only in shipbuilding but of course also in the supply chain, takes on an important role here.

What about Japan, South Korea, India? Will there be sufficient capacity, attractive prices and sufficient know-how?

Admittedly, we may have neglected the Kormarine exhibition in Busan, South Korea, in recent years. Of course, shipbuilding in South Korea has always been widely covered, but mostly only in relation to current orders, often coming from Europe. Interest in the event from our readership, however, had seemed to have waned somewhat. But that is now picking up speed again.

Notable changes are taking place in the country, not least in terms of diversification in the construction of different types of vessels. The expansion of offshore wind energy –  in Europe, the United States and Asia – and the necessary assets is also leading to a focus on offshore ships in South Korea.

Interestingly, for the first time in five months, South Korea won most newbuilding orders in July, leaving China – which is certainly still leading the general order book in the long run – in second place. While this is certainly not the wind of change yet, it may show that China’s pioneering role should not be taken for granted.

Most German and European suppliers agree, however, that they will not give up the Chinese market. They will, however, focus more on other Asian building nations and also local options.

Price, capacity and know-how – these are the determining factors for international shipbuilding – leaving competition-distorting subsidies out of the equation for once. In fact, prices in China have risen sharply and the country’s shipbuilding capacity is largely booked. According to recent reports, huge volumes of new orders have taken up slots in both Chinese and South Korean shipyards.

Whether the expansion of offshore wind energy will turn the tide is questionable. Firstly, there is still some space available at Chinese shipyards; and secondly, the country’s builders have repeatedly proven that they are also capable of building more sophisticated types of ships – with European cooperation if necessary.

This has been evident in the case of cruise ship construction, for example, with Italian builder Fincantieri. How much other shipbuilding nations – with South Korea being in a good position – will profit from this, remains to be seen.

Nevertheless, it is at least conceivable that China’s policy, and the possible enforcement of sanctions in the future – even if it is unclear what form these might take – would require a general rethink; not only but also in the maritime business.

Article Editorial staff Ship&Offshore
Article Editorial staff Ship&Offshore