Friday, May 27, 2011

German Shipbuilding: Exploring Growth Opportunities

By Eugene Gerden

The German shipbuilding industry is steadily recovering from the effects of the recession, which is reflected by the ever-growing number of orders, received by German shipyards, as well as recently announced ambitions of the German government and major local players to create conditions for the diversification of German shipbuilding.

Germany has the third largest merchant fleet in the world, and ranks first in containerships. Germany is also one of the leading international ship finance sites, and with a turnover of €85 billion, shipbuilding is a key industry in the German economy.

The storm has abated, but winds are still high. German shipbuilding has coped with the downturn in the wake of the financial and economic crisis remarkably well, avoiding the worst scenarios, however most of the analysts warn that in the absence of reforms the next crisis is only a matter of time.

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, commented, “Due to the crisis, global competition in the industry has become even more noticeable. The importance of shipbuilding for Germany is reflected by the fact that up to 90 percent of the European foreign trade is transported by sea.”

At the same time Werner L√ľken, chairman of the German Association for Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (VSM), and one of the most authoritative people in German shipbuilding has expressed optimism regarding the end of the recession.

“We are optimistic that we have walked through the valley of tears,”
he said.

A necessary basis for a successful development of the German shipbuilding was laid by Gerhard Schroeder, Merkel's predecessor as the Chancellor of Germany in 2000s, through the adoption of his “Guidelines for the promotion of the German maritime industry.”

Angela Merkel, his successor, has continued Schroeder’s successful course and was able to provide conditions for further industry growth, partially thanks to its so-called tonnage tax, when the billions of profits from container shipping during its boom remained almost tax-free.

However, the financial crisis has broken the consistent development of the German shipbuilding, resulting in a significant decline in demand for container and other cargo vessels, which were always the flagship products of the German shipbuilding, up to 75 percent of which were exported abroad.

The crisis was more or less successfully turned only by those German shipyards, which are traditionally focused on the implementation of state contracts, such as the Bremen Fassmer shipyard, which specializes in the production of warships, as well as police and patrol boats.

For the rest the numbers speak for themselves: in the wake of the crisis eight German shipyards declared bankruptcy, with 3,400 employees affected. Only 13 orders for new ships were received by German shipyards in 2010. The country’s world's market share has shrunk from 3.1 percent in 2001 to a current 1 percent, compared to the South Korean's 33 percent, China's 28 percent, and Japan's 21 percent.

At present the German shipbuilding industry is still suffering from the consequences of the crisis, at the same time facing more aggressive, and sometimes unfair competition from its age-long rivals, such as China, Korea and even Vietnam.

According to Luker, over the last year and a half the South Korean shipbuilders received about €30 billion of state subsidies, which helped them to increase their share in the market of container ships even during the times of the crisis and to dump on the market, receiving favorable orders, with the use of the practice of the establishment of rock-bottom prices.

At the same time, the German federal government currently is not only unable to provide the same volume of state support to its shipbuilders as the Asian governments, but has even cut the state subsidies for its shipbuilders in recent years. In addition, the German banks are still reluctant to grant loans for domestic shipbuilders.

In addition to direct Asian competition, the high cost of steel, along with the higher labor costs, makes the cost of building traditional container ships in Germany significantly higher than in Asia, by at least 30 percent, putting the balance sheets under greater pressure.

The weakness of the US dollar is also associated with serious difficulties for German companies, while the strong euro has resulted in many layoffs in the industry in 2010.

In addition, the acute shortage of engineers has also affected the industry’s plans to take advantage of its huge technological potential, the products of which are always considered as a benchmark of quality by shipowners all over the world.

Unlike Asia, it is currently difficult to find a yard in Germany that isn't lacking engineers and other high-skilled personnel. There is also a problem keeping many top executives within the industry.

For the last several decades and for various reasons the number of shipyard workers in Germany has decreased significantly, although this has resulted in an increase of the number of jobs in the related sectors, such as marine engines and electronics production or the interior of ships. Currently the total number of workers, involved in the German shipbuilding and related branches is estimated in the range of 65,000 to 70,000 people.

In 2010 the German shipyards delivered some 54 ships, which are practically the same figures, compared to 2009, but with higher tonnage and greater value, said a spokesman for the Association for Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (VSM), who said these figures are currently estimated at nearly 1 million compensated gross tons (CGT), and more than 4 billion euros respectively. In 2009 there were 0.73 million CGT worth 2.6 billion euros.

“2011 will be a decisive year for the industry” said a spokesman from VSM. He said the shipyards will have to fight for additional orders in order to survive. In 2010 of 20,000 people, which are directly involved in the German shipbuilding, 1,300 workers lost their jobs, while since the beginning of the recession in September 2008 total number of layoffs in the industry reached 3,800 people.

At the same time according to state forecasts, during the next several years the industry will continue to recover, and is expected to reach its pre-crisis figures by 2014.

New Opportunities
The financial crisis has forced many German shipyards to think about their future and to look for other recipes of their further success. Currently most of the industry’s players believe that the diversification of activities and the focus on the construction of new types of ships could be considered as one of the drivers of their future growth. The industry's concentration on the building of container and cargo ships appears to be the past, and there is a need to pay more attention to the construction of other types of vessels, including luxury yachts, cruise ships, as well as special vessels for offshore wind farms.

According to Merkel, one of the main goals of the German shipbuilding industry in the coming years is to tap into some promising market niches and to exploit its technological advantage.

“Classic container ships are no longer the future of Germany”, the Chancellor believes.

Merkel made it clear that the ever growing popularity of renewable energies in the EU and the US can provide an additional impetus to the development of German shipbuilding.

In this regard, she has already appealed to the national banks to engage more strongly in funding of projects, including the building of ships for offshore wind farms.

According to representatives of ThyssenKrupp AG (TKMS), the German’s largest shipyard operator, German shipbuilding must use its technological advantage to respond in a global competition for the impending energy shortage through the construction of technologically advanced, durable ships as well as to produce smart ideas. This is true both for the development of “clean ships” as well as those ships, which can be used for resource extraction in deep water.

Some German analysts also believe in the ability of German shipbuilders to exploit certain niches in naval shipbuilding, and, in particular to focus on the construction of ships, which could be used to combat piracy.

However, the changing of production priorities could be associated with serious difficulties to some German shipyards, which for many years benefited from the boom on the fast and relatively easy-to-manufacture container ships. The cost of such ships is usually in the range of only €20 to 40 million, which is significantly less than a highly complex cruise ship, priced at least ten times higher.

Hans Christoph Atzpodien, CEO of TKMS, believes that the concept of the construction of technologically simple merchant ships in Germany is no longer viable, due to the current great yards’ overcapacity in Asia.

“The commercial shipbuilding in Germany is no longer competitive. “We need to focus on our core products”, Atzpodien said.

Such “core products” are currently built at some of the shipyards owned by ThyssenKrupp and in particular Blohm + Voss, a Hamburg shipyard, which combines the construction of surface warships, especially frigates and corvettes, with supply ships.

Eugene Gerden is a free-lance writer based in Moscow, Russia who has covered the European maritime industry for 10 years. He can be reached at

UP to Quadruple Size of Inland California Intermodal Rail Yard

Union Pacific CEO Jim Young has revealed plans to quadruple the size of the Class I railroad's intermodal yard in the California Central Valley city of Lathrop and shift additional truck traffic away from the Port of Oakland to the inland facility.

Young detailed the plans during a Wednesday meeting with Lathrop city officials including Mayor Willie Weatherford, City Manager Steve Pinkerton and staff members who have been working on the proposed 4 million-square-foot CenterPoint Business Park project to be located next to the UP intermodal yard.

At the UP yard, inbound containers from the Port of Oakland arrive by truck and then are loaded on double-stacked rail cars which are then built into trains. Arriving trains are deconstructed in the same way, with outbound containers being trucked back to Oakland.

At the end of the estimated three year construction schedule, the UP yard expansion would increase the number of daily truck trips to the intermodal yard from just under 960 to about 2,200 and increase the annual throughput of the intermodal yard from about 270,000 TEUs to about 730,000 TEUs. The expansion would also necessitate UP expanding the intermodal yard workforce from a current level of about 70 workers to nearly 140 at full build-out.

To help mitigate pollution created by the rise in truck trips, the yard expansion will include the replacement of the current nine manual truck gates with 10 automated gates.

The expanded intermodal yard, located about an hour's dray from the Port of Oakland, could also attract sizable logistics and warehouse investment to the Lathrop and neighboring Manteca areas.

With an eye toward the yard expansion, CenterPoint purchased more than 250 acres of land adjacent to the UP property located in Manteca and secured the rights for development. Designed for large distribution centers ranging from 250,000 to 1 million square feet, the $178 million development is planned to be marketed heavily to tenants wishing to take advantage of the UP yard. The business park project is expected to create up to 600 full-time jobs and an additional 800 jobs during CenterPoint's estimated 12 to 14 month construction schedule.

Crows Landing Developer Ordered to Pay County Staff Time

The developer behind the Crows Landing intermodal industrial park in California's Central Valley has been ordered by the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors to pay just under $170,000 in county staff costs for the review of environmental documents related to the project.

As the head of PCCP West Park LLC, developer Gerry Kamalos has been fighting for more than four years to get the Crows Landing project to the construction phase. In March, the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors agreed in a narrow 3-2 vote to give Kamalos a 15-month extension to complete environmental documents needed before construction on the project can begin.

Kamalos has not paid for county staff time in four years, according to the Modesto Bee, because county officials weighed the staff costs against the PCCP West Park estimate of thousands of jobs to be created by the project.

However, a recent county examination estimated that reports on the project due by the end of the 15-month extension in June 2012 will require sizable county staff review that would amount to 1,127 hours of county staff time. The county estimates that this staff time will costs $169,000 and is asking PCCP to pay the costs in four equal payments of $42,250 due in June and October of this year and January and May of next year.

Just prior to the county vote on the extension earlier this year, Kamilos announced sizable changes to the scope of the Crows Landing project.

PCCP’s original plan sought to remake the former Crows Landing Naval Air Station property into a 4,800-acre modern rail and industrial complex. A major component of the project was a $52 million short-haul rail plan seeking to upgrade existing rail track along an 80-mile-long route running from Crows Landing to the Port of Oakland and back.

The rail component remains part of the project's first phase of construction and would likely take several years to complete. The original rail plan forecast for the completed complex to handle several 50-car trains or more per day via the proposed route between the Oakland port and the Crows Landing site about 70 miles inland from the port.

Once the containers reached the Crows Landing complex, the plan envisioned the containers being loaded onto trucks for distribution throughout the California Central Valley.

According to PCCP, Central Valley agricultural products and other regional products could be returned via the same rail line to the port for export.

Kamalos announced the scale-down of the plan as a way of addressing concerns raised by local residents who worry about potential noise, congestion and pollution due to envisioned operations at the complex.

The revised plan presented by Kamalos to the supervisors calls for two trains a day instead of six and a reduction of the total project size from 4,800 acres to 2,800 acres.

Kamalos' revised plans also call for the construction of an 850-acre solar power facility to be located on some of the 2,000 acres not included in the revised plans. Kamalos also said in early March that an additional $7.5 million--$4 million from PCCP West Park and $3.5 million from outside investor Spinnaker Energy Group--has been acquired for the project.

Tacoma Port Approves Settlement Over Failed Terminal Project

The governing board for the Port of Tacoma on Thursday unanimously approved a settlement with NYK Line and NYK-subsidiary Yusen Terminal Tacoma, Inc., over the cancelled Blair Waterway NYK container terminal.

The board gave approval to port CEO John Wolfe to sign a previously negotiated release and settlement agreement between the three parties. Under the terms of the agreement, the port will pay YTTI $2 million and YTTI will pay the port $7.75 million.

The agreement states that the payments, "are agreed to represent a compromise and settlement of doubtful and disputed claims and shall not be construed as an admission of liability, which is hereby expressly disclaimed, on the part of [the port] or any of the YTTI Parties (YTTI and NYK)."

The settlement grew out of a 2007 agreement that called for the port to develop the east side of the Blair Waterway into a new terminal for NYK, after relocating tenant Totem Ocean Trailer Express and constructing road and rail infrastructure.

In October 2009, after spending more than $190 million on the project, the port and NYK cancelled the terminal development. The reasons for the cancellation of the project – at the time scheduled for completion in 2012 – were cited as unforeseen increases in projected costs and a drop in port revenue. Updated estimates of the project in late 2009 predicted a total bill $400 million higher than the $800 million original estimate for the terminal.

The port has already spent $35 million in design costs for the Blair Waterway NYK terminal, relocation of Totem to another site and infrastructure development. In addition, the port spent $146 million to acquire property and demolish vacant buildings, $6 million on site remediation and permitting, and $3 million in staff costs.

A new deal was signed with NYK in late 2009 that calls for NYK to begin using the port's existing APM Terminal by July, 2012. Maersk previously called at the terminal until the shipping line vacated the facility in May, 2009, to head to the Port of Seattle.

The collapse of the deal also led to the departure of then port executive director Tim Farrell after serving in the top executive role at the port for five years.

The $2 million payout to YTTI in the settlement approved Thursday is to cove the return of an "Excusive Negotiation Fee" to YTTI.

The $7.75 million settlement payout to the port "represented the amount expended by the port," for design work, "that was directly related to the YTTI terminal premises."

According to the port, the settlement will cause no profit and loss statement impact to the port in 2011 because the settlement expense was recognized in the port books for 2010. The settlement will cause the port's on-hand cash to rise by $5.75 million.

APL is First to Plug Into Landside Power at Oakland Port

With the implementation date for California air regulations requiring ship-to-shore power for container vessels calling at the state's major ports rapidly approaching, port authorities throughout the state are all moving forward with major efforts to electrify their docks.

On Thursday, the Singapore-based APL became the first ocean carrier to plug into a ship-to-shore system at the Port of Oakland.

Ship-to-shore systems allow vessels to plug into the landside power grid while at berth. Called "cold-ironing," this allows vessels to use the landside electricity to power systems aboard the vessel normally powered by onboard diesel-powered auxiliary engines. Shutting off the auxiliary engines allows vessels to dramatically cut their per call emissions at the port: approximately 1,000 pounds of smog-forming nitrogen oxides emissions, 165 pounds of sulfur oxides, and 30 pounds of particulate matter can be eliminated in a 24-hour port call.

On Thursday, the 900-foot-long APL Singapore berthed at APL’s Global Gateway Central terminal, plugged into the dock's ship-to-shore system and switched off its auxiliary engines. According to port officials, it was the official launch of an APL program to have five vessels cold-ironing this year in the transpacific trade between Asia and the US.

APL has spent $11 million to retrofit the five container vessels and re-wire its Oakland terminal with a ship-to-shore system. It was awarded $4.8 million in California Air Resources Board grants by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to complete the project.

"We have brought cold-ironing to the port," APL Americas President Gene Seroka said. "When others do as well, we can further reduce vessel emissions and re-enforce that global trade growth is sustainable."

APL predicts that cold-ironing can eradicate 50,000 pounds of nitrogen oxides emissions from its ships annually in Oakland. Emissions of particulate matter should also drop by 1,500 pounds a year.

California air regulations mandating cold-ironing for container ships are set to take effect in 2014. At that time, half of an ocean carrier’s fleet must rely on shore power when berthed in California ports. APL is one of only a handful of carriers currently cold-ironing in California, and the only one in Oakland.

The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles already have several ship-to-shore systems in place, with plans to rapidly expand the availability throughout both ports by 2014. Other ports, such as the Port of Hueneme, are also moving forward with plans to install ship-to-shore systems.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Attorney Yee Named to Oakland Port Board

Alan Yee, a long-time Oakland-area attorney, has been appointed to the seven-member governing board, which oversees the Port of Oakland.

Yee was nominated to the position by Oakland Mayor Jean Quan on May 5 and unanimously confirmed by the Oakland City Council on May 17. Yee will fill the seat previously held by Commissioner Kenneth Katzoff, a term that expires in July 2014. Port Commissioners normally serve four-year terms.

"Commissioner Yee is a long-time civic leader with significant experience in business litigation including international trade issues," Mayor Quan said. "He has gained unique skills and insights that will directly benefit the Port and City. His track record of accessibility, fairness, and open-mindedness will serve him well in this critical role."

Yee has served as a partner in the Oakland-area law firm of Siegel & Yee for more than 30 years, including litigating commercial cases involving trade and international commerce and representing international trade firms in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

In addition to the Port of Oakland, the Board of Port Commissioners oversees the Oakland International Airport, 20 miles of waterfront, and real estate including commercial developments such as Jack London Square, as well as hundreds of acres of public parks and conservation areas.

Grand China Expands Transpac Services With New Loop

Less than four weeks after ceremonies at the Port of Long Beach inaugurated its first transpacific service, ocean carrier Grand China Shipping (GCS) is expanding the service into two loops, with new coverage including Korea and the Port of Oakland.

Grand China launched its first transpacific service – the Super Pacific Express (SPX) – on April 26 with five 2,700-TEU vessels and a rotation of Hong Kong, Yantian, Ningbo, Shanghai, Long Beach, Hong Kong. Under the new configuration, the SPX rotation will be Ningbo, Shanghai, Pusan, Long Beach, Oakland and Ningbo.

A new second GCS transpacific loop, to be called the Pearl River Pacific Express (PPX), will utilize five 2,500-TEU vessels in a rotation of Xiamen, Hong Kong, Yantian, Long Beach and Oakland.

Grand China Shipping operates a fleet of 23 container ships with a total capacity of 37,000 TEUs and is, according to the carrier, ranked 33rd among the world's biggest container lines.

The SPX and PPX services are the first major expansion out of the intra-Asia trade for the four-year-old start-up carrier.

In the past year, total weekly container capacity in the transpacific services has grown by nearly 70,000 TEUs to just under 260,000 TEUs. Close to a quarter of this added weekly capacity is due to the addition of services by relative newcomers to the Asia-West Coast trade, including GCS, Hainan Pan Ocean Shipping, and T.S. Lines. Additional capacity has been added by established providers such as Grand Alliance member lines Hapag-Lloyd, NYK and OOCL and New World Alliance members APL, Hyundai Merchant Marine and MOL, which have resumed transpacific services that were either abandoned during the economic downturn or shuttered during the slack season.

LA Port Facing Steep Decline in Cruise Traffic

The number of cruise ship passengers moving through the Port of Los Angeles this year is expected to be just under half of the 1.2 million passengers handled at the port's World Cruise Terminal in its peak year of 2005.

Despite overall US cruise numbers on the upswing – up by about 1 million passengers last year to a total of 16 million nationwide – Los Angeles numbers are predicted to decline by an additional 25 percent next year to 450,000 passengers.

According to the port, cruises out of Los Angeles – which focus mainly on trips to Mexican resort towns along the West Coast – have suffered from a growing wariness among travelers as reports of drug-related violence throughout Mexico have increased over the past several years.

"We're really at the mercy of how people perceive Mexico as a whole, even if the port cities aren't reporting any problems," Port of Los Angeles manager of business development Chris Chase told the Torrance Daily Breeze. "We're hoping the market will quickly turn around and show a new interest in Mexico."

The situation has grown so bad that no regular Mexico cruise service is planned out of Los Angeles through September, according to the Daily Breeze.

Royal Caribbean Cruises' high-end liner Mariner of the Seas had its last Mexico cruise from the Port of Los Angeles in January. The cruise line moved the vessel to a new home in Galveston, Texas, where it now offers western Caribbean excursions.
Earlier this month, Norwegian Cruise Lines discontinued Mexico service with its Los Angeles-based vessel Norwegian Star and moved the ship to its new home in Tampa, Florida.

The vessels account for a large percentage of the Los Angeles cruise passenger traffic, with the Mariner of the Seas alone accounting for just over 40 percent of the Los Angeles port's total 755,000 annual cruise passengers handled last year.

Estimates suggest that a cruise ship call at a Southern California port pumps between $1 million and $2 million into the local economy.

While the industry and industry watchers have pointed to the escalating violence in Mexico and the torpid world economy as logical reasons for the moves, other experts citing the growing nationwide increase in cruise traffic have also pointed to a general decline in passenger interest for the Mexican excursions.

Norwegian Cruise Lines said, while it plans to consider a return to Los Angeles at some point in the future, the departure of the Norwegian Star was directed by an "overcapacity in the market" and "decreased demand."

At the neighboring Port of Long Beach, home to two Carnival Cruise Lines vessels, port officials are predicting no 2011 or 2012 downturn in passenger traffic to Mexico through the Long Beach cruise facility, which handles about 400,000 passengers annually.

Phase One Work Begins on Major Long Beach Port Terminal Project

The Port of Long Beach has kicked off one of the first major construction components of its massive $750 million Middle Harbor Redevelopment Project.

The ten-year Middle Harbor project is composed of roughly 30 individual construction projects that will redevelop and combine the port's existing piers E, D, and F into a single contiguous 342-acre megaterminal with more than double the capacity (and half the generated emissions) of the two former terminals.

Seattle-based contractor Manson-Connolly, who was awarded the $154 million contract for Phase I, Stage 1 of the Middle Harbor project in February, began staging equipment for work on Pier E earlier this month. Demolition work on the Pier E berth E-24 has now begun. In addition, Manson-Connolly has started construction of a containment dike across Pier E's Slip 1 in preparation for future work that will fill in the slip with landfill and eventually turn the slip-area into terminal space. Excavation and dredging work to widen the nearby Slip 3 is also preparing to move forward, as is work on a much smaller landfill project at the tip of Pier E.

Work on the Pier E component of Phase I is expected to be complete in the first quarter of 2013. A second phase goes out to bid this July.

A roughly $13 million subcontract for the Manson-Connolly Phase I contract will also see sub-contractor Dynalectric install a dock electrification system and the landside power grid infrastructure for the Middle Harbor project so that power can be provided to ships, cranes, and area lighting. The subcontract calls for Dynalectric to excavate and install 260,000 feet of underground concrete encased conduit, underground pre-cast pull boxes, pre-cast vaults, pre-cast manholes, and a pre-cast tunnel vault.

Additionally, Dynalectic will install a main terminal substation and a ship-to-shore substation.

Ship-to-shore power systems allow vessel crews to turn of their auxiliary diesel engines while at berth and draw maintenance power for the vessels from the landside power grid, thereby cutting a large percentage of the diesel emissions generated during each call.

The Middle Harbor project represents one of the largest constructions efforts in the port's decade-long $4 billion capital investment program that began in earnest last year.