One reason Seaspan chose Chinese shipyards to build its next generation of big ships was that South Korean shipbuilders were slow to offer more fuel-efficient designs.
Flush with orders and reluctant to retool, Korean shipyards acted like the “Soup Nazi” character on “Seinfeld,” said Graham Porter, Seaspan director and chairman of the Tiger Group.
If a potential buyer requested anything besides a shipyard’s basic design, “They’d say, ‘No, that’s not what we’re selling today; we have another design. If you want it, here it is; if you don’t want it, please get out of the way.’ ”
Container ship design was fairly static for a decade, except for increases in vessel size. Seaspan CEO Gerry Wang clamored for new hull and engine designs, but it took the 2008-09 recession to get them, Porter said.
The recession turned a seller’s market for new ships into a buyer’s market in which Chinese shipyards are challenging Korea for dominance, Porter said. “That’s one of the reasons we ordered in China — to send a wakeup call to the others that if there is a demand, someone will build to it,” he said.
Seaspan isn’t the only buyer to order more-efficient ships. Maersk Line last week placed a second 10-ship order with Korean yards for construction of ships that will have capacities of 18,000 20-foot-equivalent units and promise 40 percent savings on fuel.
Neptune Orient Lines ordered 12 ships last week, including 10 that will carry up to 14,000 TEUs and boast fuel-saving designs.
Porter said the impact of the fuel-efficient ships will be felt in operations, the charter market and vessel resale values.
“I think this will have an impact on our industry,” Porter said. “I don’t think it’s going to be an instant impact. It’s going to be blended in over the next five to 10 years.”
Contact Joseph Bonney at email@example.com.