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China overtakes Japan in battle of shipbuilding Titans

China overtakes Japan in battle of shipbuilding Titans

Shanghai: Ship deliveries from China exceeded those from Japan in the first six months of the year for the first time. According to figures from Clarkson Research, China's share climbed to 23% in the first half, compared with Japan's 22%.

The year as a whole will go down in shipbuilding's stormy history as a year of change, according to Clarkson analysts. At the start of the year, the world's shipyards had an all-time record book totalling 595m dwt although it is not clear, as yet, how much will actually be built.

Clarkson's analysis shows that Japanese builders have adopted a different strategy to shipyards in Europe. Deploying so-called "improvement engineering", Japanese yards have radically reduced building costs of standard ships by building to a strict specification, says Clarkson, and bulk carriers now represent two thirds of Japan's orderbook. In contrast, European yards have opted to build "hi-tech" ships such as cruise vessels, chemical tankers, LNG carriers and other specialised vessels including dredgers.

Now the race is on between China and South Korea. In the second quarter, China's output hit a peak of 2.48m compensated gross tons, more than 10% ahead of Japan's 2.2m cgt. But 2010 could see Chinese production reaching 4m cgt per quarter, lagging not far begind South Korea's 5m cgt.

Market sources point out that more new tonnage is being delayed than previously thought, though actual volumes are not clear. The volume of cancellations, which actually mean contract defaults, is also a closely guarded secret between shipyards and their customers. The key issue is the global trend in deliveries.

"During the last economic downturn in 2002," Clarkson says in its most recent weekly report, "world shipbuilding deliveries average 4.5m cgt per quarter. But currently production is 11m cgt per quarter, a 244% increase."

However, some financiers are warning that the worst of the ship finance crisis is still to come. As much as half of the world's orderbook could as yet not be financed, some believe, leaving a strong possibility that there could be many more contract defaults to come. "As much as 30% of the orderbook may be cancelled or defaulted upon," says one source.  [07/09/09]