Commercial shipbuilding - why not in the UK?

Nevertheless, now the only company to be successfully exporting warships of sorts now that BAE has killed off Vospers (VT and whatever else they went though in the death spiral)
BAE might disagree shortly - if they're lucky - and could probably point to their (partly accidental) Brazilian and Thai successes, though most would argue they're not warships.

Nice ships though they are, the paddy patrol boats ain't warships - even of sorts - either. They're a Canadian design aimed at the coastguard market.
 
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Bouillabaisse

LE
Book Reviewer
BAE might disagree shortly - if they're lucky - and could probably point to their (partly accidental) Brazilian and Thai successes, though most would argue they're not warships.

Nice ships though they are, the paddy patrol boats ain't warships - even of sorts - either. They're a Canadian design aimed at the coastguard market.
The Brazilian and Thai ships were sold by and were being built by VT when VT were sold to BAE (via the BVT consortium.) BAE's processes and political pressure has effectively killed that business. BAE cannot, and they know it, build the same ship for the same money as VT were knocking them out at.
 
The Brazilian and Thai ships were sold by and were being built by VT when VT were sold to BAE (via the BVT consortium.) BAE's processes and political pressure has effectively killed that business. BAE cannot, and they know it, build the same ship for the same money as VT were knocking them out at.
Absolutely agree. You only had to see the Jockinese take hold of the Omani ships when their "issues" surfaced to understand that. Won't stop them claiming them as exports though.....
 

seaweed

LE
Book Reviewer
The Brazilian and Thai ships were sold by and were being built by VT when VT were sold to BAE (via the BVT consortium.) BAE's processes and political pressure has effectively killed that business. BAE cannot, and they know it, build the same ship for the same money as VT were knocking them out at.
I imagine 'knocking them out for that money' was what drove VT into BAE's arms.
 

Bouillabaisse

LE
Book Reviewer
I imagine 'knocking them out for that money' was what drove VT into BAE's arms.
VT took on more programme risk but were able to make money within it but the VT board decided that the future was in service provision. When the govt forced a rationalisation of shipbuilding as a precursor to the carrier order VT ships and BAE ships formed a joint venture BVT. About 18 months later VT exercised their option to force BAE to buy them out completely. BAE then get the blame for making the job cuts in shipbuilding that the govt politically couldn't.
 
VT then became part of Babcock and got back into shipbuilding? All very confusing.
 
Shipbuilding in Britain: how to reboot it

The UK has a new strategy for shipbuilding. After a 20th century marked by a painful decline in UK shipbuilding, it is not about to resume global dominance. There is, however, a chance to leave the past behind and revive elements of commercial shipbuilding as part of a wider post-Brexit industrial strategy. Yet the government falls short of this, instead focusing all its attention on the naval sector.

There is a significant risk in this approach. If commercial shipbuilding is not developed, the industry defaults to being purely a defence issue. This is bad for defence and also misses out on the opportunities that can be had from commercial ventures to support defence shipbuilding requirements – in an industry with an order book worth US$233 billion globally and US$62.7 billion in European shipyards.

Government reluctance to support commercial shipbuilding puts the UK at a disadvantage to its competitors. For example, the use of innovation aid is common in European shipbuilding. Prototype development is not possible in shipbuilding, as the final product itself is the prototype when it comes to innovative ships. So government R&D aid towards contract costs is permitted under EU competition rules: a benefit used by the UK’s competitors.

It is also possible to use protective measures when building ships that are of national significance, such as ferries. The US, for example, protects these sectors under the
Jones Act, which requires goods or people moving between US ports to be transported on ships that are built and owned by US citizens.

US shipbuilding has lost its competitive advantage abroad as a result of protectionism and made some goods more expensive for US consumers, but it has ensured the maintenance of strategic skills that are essential to the defence of the country. The UK should bear this in mind, given that its skill base has teetered dangerously close to the minimum required to build ships for defence in recent years.

Protectionism is clearly undesirable. But there are softer measures found, for example, in Brazil, Canada and Australia. They support their domestic industries through local content requirements, while also promoting competitiveness. Such measures are restricted for EU members, but there are other ways that the UK can support its domestic production. Post-Brexit, public procurement restrictions may no longer apply, depending on the exit deal, enabling the UK to capitalise on more contracts with domestic suppliers.

Norway provides another good model for the potential benefits of support for domestic shipbuilding. It developed a global lead in ferries powered by liquefied natural gas – much more environmentally friendly than the normal diesel power – which is used in the UK ferry sector. It is also well ahead in developing a hydrogen-powered ferry infrastructure that will produce zero emissions.

Lessons from history

UK policy towards shipbuilding is undoubtedly tainted by its history. The 20th century was a political and social nightmare for British shipbuilding, with its global share declining steadily from over 80% in the 1890s to zero by the end of the 1980s.

The last century is littered with angst and enquiries into this decline, attempting to work out what went wrong. When looked at objectively, however, the decline was inevitable, just as it was for Japan that followed the UK to global dominance in shipbuilding, and for South Korea, which followed Japan, only to lose out to China.

Having once been the industry leader is a millstone around the UK’s neck, because of the political difficulties that accompanied decline and still inevitably colour the political view. Let’s not forget the strikes and the unemployment – protests like the
Jarrow March and the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders sit-in and many more crises – but this is all history now. It should have no relevance to the future of commercial shipbuilding.

Everyone has their own view of why the UK’s industry died. Labour unrest, poor management and – above all, for many in the northeast – Margaret Thatcher and a lack of government support. But these are at best symptoms of a decline that was already underway when Thatcher came to power in 1979. This was a decline taking place across all of Western Europe. Thatcher can’t be blamed for substantially closing the industries in Sweden, Denmark, France, Spain and elsewhere – although the government could be accused of throwing the baby out with the bathwater when it closed just about everything.

In reality, the UK’s shipbuilding industry was overwhelmed by forces that would inevitably lead to closure. Technology changed radically in World War II with the introduction of welding and mass production techniques in the US. This meant that both the UK’s fixed capital investment and its labour structures were inappropriate in the post-war era. The size of ships grew exponentially between 1950 and 1970, further adding to the obsolescence of the UK’s small and restricted shipyards.

At the same time, shipbuilding was chosen as one of the industries to resurrect the decimated Japanese post-war economy. Efficient new-era yards with new models of working were built from scratch, with margins that were impossible to beat. Add to this the disappearance of the UK’s core market with the end of the British empire and the UK didn’t really stand a chance, whatever political decisions were made.
It’s time now to leave the past behind.


The UK needs a forward-looking strategy that takes into account both the tangible and intangible value of commercial shipbuilding. Only 30% of the value of a commercial ship typically rests with the shipyard. The other 70% is in the supply chain and the UK retains a strong supply chain. So, tangibly speaking, commercial shipping can contribute a great deal to the wider economy.

Intangible value starts with the skills needed for defence. And support for the UK’s domestic commercial needs can help develop skills and technology that will boost the country’s competitiveness and exports in both sectors. Brexit provides an opportunity for shipbuilding, but the UK needs to develop a strategy that looks forwards to the decades to come.
 
Similar to something I read about 18 months back
Although that focused more on the cheap Asian Labour issue of the 70s and noted that Shipbuilding is both less manpower intensive and the UK could invest to be heavily automated in a new yard and that wage differences have narrowed.

It also commented on how certain ship building nations offer very favourable loans to national shipping companies purchasing locally built ships - Terms HMG doesn't yet meet but would incentivise buying british.
 
Table 1 in the report on the Jones Act demonstrates very clearly the effect of protectionism. In 1960 there were 2,926 US flagged ships comprising 17% of the world merchant fleet. In 2016 there were 169 (0.4%).

The El Faro was a Jones Act ship. She was 40 years old when she sank. The average age of a modern merchant ship is around 12-15 years.
 
Not exactly shipbuilding, but still something we can do well:

Glasgow firm complete new Submarine Launch and Recovery System

“The Submarine Launch and Recovery System flies the international flag for Scottish engineering. Its specially-designed features and technological advancements will allow the rapid rescue of submariners. Given the recent tragic events, fast mobilisation timescales have never been more important.
 
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Splashdown for Attenborough 'Boaty' ship

The Attenborough will be equipped with all the latest scientific gear. It will have a helipad, cranes and onboard labs, and have the ability to deploy subs and other ocean survey and sampling kit. One of its key features is an enclosed "moon pool".

This is essentially a huge hole running right through the middle of the hull. It will allow instruments to be lowered into - and recovered from - the sea when weather or dense sea-ice conditions would normally make such work very difficult.

The ship design, put together by Rolls-Royce, also enables near-silent running when required, meaning scientists can study sea creatures without disturbing them.


Not a low tech vessel. This is where the UK can compete.
 
Splashdown for Attenborough 'Boaty' ship

The Attenborough will be equipped with all the latest scientific gear. It will have a helipad, cranes and onboard labs, and have the ability to deploy subs and other ocean survey and sampling kit. One of its key features is an enclosed "moon pool".

This is essentially a huge hole running right through the middle of the hull. It will allow instruments to be lowered into - and recovered from - the sea when weather or dense sea-ice conditions would normally make such work very difficult.

The ship design, put together by Rolls-Royce, also enables near-silent running when required, meaning scientists can study sea creatures without disturbing them.

Not a low tech vessel. This is where the UK can compete.

Unfortunately RR is selling the commercial ship building arm to the Norwegians...


Rolls-Royce signs agreement to sell Commercial Marine business to KONGSBERG – Rolls-Royce
 
RR's commercial marine business - which is primarily ship design and ME equipment supply, not shipbuilding - is largely based in Scandiwegia anyway. The RR design which was the basis for SDA was bid by a number of shipyards in the competition. Cammell Laird won the build contract.

I was there on Saturday and it was an absolutely fantastic day. Launch days are usually happy occasions, but this one had something else - a real feeling of rebirth. Long may it continue.
 
Rolls Royce will still be producing marine engines and related gear.

I remember when Cammell Laird was considered dead, in the nineties? Great to see them going again. I would love to see commercial vessels being built for export, or service under the Red Ensign.
 

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