Home' Work Boat World : December 2009 Contents The best is not always left to last
For every rule there's an exception
Many people who pass through my port's local watering hole
look at the United States as somewhat of a contradiction.
Actually, that's not quite right -- their views contradict what
they believe are the views of Americans. Which is to say that
while the Americans in their heads believe America to be all-
powerful and world-leading, they see America as somewhat of
a laggard, at least when it comes to the marine industry.
One of the oft-quoted reasons for that are the various pieces of US
Government legislation that form a protective cocoon around much
of the industry. Chief among these is what is commonly called the
Jones Act, a piece of legislation that means any ship operating
commercially between consecutive US ports must be US-flagged and
US-built. Which, of course, protects US crews and US shipyards from
international competition. Doha? What's that? So, the theory goes
that anything that is protected from competition doesn't evolve.
There's probably some truth in that but one shouldn't forget that the
US itself is a big economy which brings with it a fair number of
indigenous "predators", at least outside the naval shipbuilding market.
That said, the US Department of Commerce found in 2001 that:
"Based on Department of Labor information, productivity in the US
shipbuilding industry has not significantly improved since the
mid-1980s, although gains have occurred since 1995 (up 12 per cent).
Compared to productivity increases in aircraft manufacturing (up 84 per
cent), for example, shipbuilding productivity has not kept pace."
Now, my drinking buddies are not in the habit of reading
government reports. Instead, one of the key pieces of "evidence"
they use to support their claims that US shipbuilding is about as
modern and competitive as Henry Ford's Model T is the lack of
orders placed with US shipbuilders for non US-flagged ships.
"When," they say, "was the last time you heard of a US yard
building a boat for overseas when the US Government wasn't
supporting the deal?"
Well, my friends, it was only a couple of weeks ago. A contact in
the (non-US shipbuilding game) alerted me to the fact that
Kvichak was building a series of boats for the Dutch Pilots. Now,
when I heard this I was pretty sure there was some confusion. I
thought that, for sure, they were talking about Dutch Harbor in
Alaska not the country famous for windmills, tulips, cafes with
interesting menus, a red light district and plenty of first-rate
boatbuilders. After all, one industry commentator was so bold as to
recently write that:
"In fact, it could be argued that the Dutch are the world's
pre-eminent small ship builders."
As it happens, the good people at Kvichak are proving to be the
exception to the rule because they have in fact won an order from
a pilot organisation in The Netherlands and are currently building
a trio of 22-metre, 29-knot aluminium boats. These will be
delivered between January and April next year -- an event that the
US shipbuilding industry should surely be crowing about.
They get by (with a little help from their friends)
Of course they should not crow too loudly because there's a fair
bit of foreign expertise helping them out in various projects, some
of which must put a dent in their pride. The pilot boats, for
example, are built to a design by Camarc -- a UK firm. The US Coast
Guard's new cutters? Based on a Damen design, as were the last lot
of patrol boats. (And, not forgetting that Canada is part of North
America, a Damen design has been selected for the recent
Canadian Coast Guard mid-shore patrol vessel project too). The US
Navy -- well the Littoral Combat Ships are being built at shipyards
owned by Australians and Italians, and the Army's JHSV is also an
They get by (with a little help from
While on the subject of the land of the Maple Leaf (and
forthcoming winter Olympics) it would be remiss not to acknowledge
their skills when it comes to keeping builds in-country. As a
Government minister noted when announcing the aforementioned
C$194 million order for nine patrol boats:
"Our government is following through on its commitment to having
federal ships built in Canada."
Part of that is the nation's Industrial and Regional Benefits Policy,
which requires that 100 percent of the patrol boat contract's value
"will be reinvested in Canada, creating opportunities, jobs and
helping our long-term industrial development." Ask anyone who has
looked at selling boats there and they'll also tell you that there's a
hefty import duty.
A few years ago I was a regular reader of "Fishing Boat World", a
magazine that, sadly, has sunk from the Baird fleet. It used to be
full of interesting fishing boats, some not bigger than dinghies,
others that were genuine ships.
Of course you don't have to be a rocket scientist to work out
that the magazine's sinking is a reflection of the sinking stakes of
the fishing industry and, in particular, the fishing boat building
industry. Rightly or wrongly, ever more stringently regulated
fisheries put a severe dampener on investment in new boats and
gear. In fact, taking boats out of the fleet has probably been one
of the few areas of "growth" in the industry. So, even in recent
years where it seemed you could finance anything, nobody has
been pouring cash into fishing. Presumably that will change in
the future -- boats have finite lives after all -- but for now it is
I do hope, however, that you'll have read about a few interesting
craft by the time you get here (unless you are one of those people
who start at the back). Some that came to my attention earlier this
year, but which I haven't seen reports on, were a series of 90 metre
purse seiners being built by French yard Piriou. Ordered in July
2007, these are exactly the kind of thing that fits the ship category
-- including a diesel electric propulsion plant. Perhaps even more
interesting, while the first was built in France and delivered in July,
the remaining two are being built at the shipbuilder's facility in
Vietnam. The first of these was launched in August and is due for
delivery in the northern hemisphere spring, with the third about
six months later.
December 2009 WORK BOAT WORLD
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