While everyone else on board was enjoying Champagne and beautifully presented 12-day-old food, I was thinking about engineering and economics…
Building a cruise ship is like building a city: power generation, fresh water generation, sewage treatment, residential and commercial real estate, etc. There are competitive shipyards in only a handful of countries and they aren’t always the countries that one associates with being the most efficient at building cities.
http://www.cruisemapper.com/wiki/757-cruise-ship-building-construction-design shows that Germany is at the top of the list for construction and refitting. But then Italy, not typically associated with efficiency or speed, is also cranking out ships for Carnival. The French are able to squeeze some shipbuilding time in during their 35-hour work weeks. All of the Scandinavian countries have great maritime traditions, but only Finland is successful in building cruise ships.
Our particular ship, the Crystal Symphony, was built in Finland in 1995 and is currently being renovated in Hamburg (one month of work, 24 hours per day). However, the Wikipedia page for this ship shows that the U.S. is able to compete at least in minor refitting projects, the Crystal Symphony having been refitted in Norfolk back in 2006 and in Boston(!) in 2009 (maybe things aren’t as dire as suggested in U.S. versus German infrastructure spending and results).
For the bread-and-butter commercial ships, such as container ships and tankers, it may be that government subsidies are partly responsible for where they are made. See “Decline in U.S. Shipbuilding Industry: A Cautionary Tale of Foreign Subsidies Destroying U.S. Jobs” by Aaron Klein, an Obama Administration U.S. Treasury bureaucrat:
America had a long and storied commercial shipbuilding industry. After the Second World War, American shipbuilding was at its peak, leading the world. As one news story noted in 1985, “Thirty years ago, U.S. shipyards built most of the world’s fleets.”
Today, America ranks nineteenth in the world for commercial shipbuilding, accounting for approximately 0.35 percent of global new construction. Put another way, only one-third of one-percent of new commercial shipbuilding occurs in the United States, despite the fact that we are the world’s largest economy. What happened?
The author goes on to chronicle subsidies by South Korean, Japan, and China. But these countries aren’t competitive in building new cruise ships.
And if government subsidies are the main story, why aren’t Americans able to compete in supplying engines and other components? Are the engines and drive systems made in Switzerland, England, or Finland because those countries are subsidizing companies that make components for ships?
- “China’s Subsidized Shipbuilding”: “A simple price gap analysis shows that Chinese ships cost 7.3 percent less than rivals’ ships. Controlling for quality differences, they should be around 3 to 5 percent cheaper, which leaves a 4 percent gap”
Philip Greenspun’s Weblog