Cruise Ship Building: Asia Invades Europe
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Cruise Ship Building: Asia Invades Europe

For a long time now, Italy, France, Germany and Finland, and very occasionally Japan, have been the only serious builders in the world to produce large cruise ships. But with three recent shipbuilding takeovers, this may now be changing.

In January 2005, Kvaerner-Masa Yards and Aker Finnyards agreed to merge to form Aker Yards, a Finnish-based but Norwegian-owned company, and more yards have since been added in Germany.

In January 2006, Aker Yards and Alstom, owners of Chantiers de l'Atlantique, announced that they would merge. Aker acquired a 75% shareholding in the joint company and Alstom 25%, at least until 2010. The cost of the acquisition for Aker Yards was some €50 million and meanwhile Chantiers became Aker France.

But last month, South Korea's STX Group took over Aker Yards.

STX Buys Aker Yards

Last month's daring swoop on Aker Yards by STX that will see it take two-thirds of Aker Yards and leave the French with 34% - 25% already held by Alstom and 9% it will now sell to the French Government. The buyout will cost STX about $1.3 billion.

Aker Yards gives STX Group, a conglomerate involved in shipbuilding and energy production, specialised cruise ship and offshore vessel capabilities. STX is presently the sixth largest shipbuilder worldwide, with strength in bulk carriers and container ships. Aker Yards, meanwhile, controls thirteen shipyards and has 15 cruise and ferry type vessels on its order book. CostaConcordiayard.jpg

However, Aker Yards has suffered losses and building cruise ships is not only vulnerable to the economic downturn but also to changes in the dollar-euro exchange rates.

STX competes with three bigger firms in South Korea, Hyundai Heavy Industries Co, Samsung Heavy Industries Co and Daewoo Shipbuilding. But Aker Yards' advanced technologies in cruise ships, icebreakers and specialised ships should put it less head-on-head with its national competitors.

Following the acquisition, STX Group plans to rename the company STX Europe while Aker Yards' French unit will become STX France Cruise, focusing on cruise and defence businesses.

French trade unions, meanwhile, have expressed fears that powerful Asian shipbuilders will push traditional European industry leaders out of the business.
Aker Yards builds the biggest cruise ships in the world, the most valuable commercial ships ever constructed. Earlier this year it delivered the 154,407-ton Independence of the Seas and next in line will be the 220,000-ton Oasis of the Seas next year.
Meanwhile, it has signed a contract to build two 49,000-ton ferries for P&O Ferries' Dover-Calais service for delivery in 2010 and 2011, with options for two further vessels, all capable of carrying up to 2,000 passengers.

Fincantieri, Carnival Group and Diversification

Meanwhile, in Italy, three of Fincantieri's biggest customers are Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America Line and Princess Cruises, all of whom have taken most of their new deliveries from the Italian shipbuilders. To these can now be added Cunard and P&O. Carnival's new 130,000-ton Carnival Dream will be Finantieri's largest product when she delivers next year.
Fincantieri, one of the largest shipbuilders in the world, designs and produces cruise ships, ferries, naval vessels, offshore units and mega yachts. With nine shipyards, eight in Italy, it has 10,000 employees. The company's order book at the end of 2007 stood at 49 ships, 23 for its Cruise, Ferry Business Unit, 24 for its Naval Business Unit (including offshore) and 2 Mega Yachts. Over the last eighteen years, it has built and delivered eighty-two cruise ships and ferries.

Meanwhile, Fincantieri's naval arm has signed an agreement to acquire the Manitowoc Marine Group from the Manitowoc Company, with Lockheed Martin Corporation agreeing to a minority shareholding. This estimated $ 120 Million deal, to close at the end of 2008, brings it one of the leading mid-size shipbuilders in the United States, with commercial and government customers including the US Navy and Coast Guard.

Although primarily a naval venture in connection with America's littoral warship development, Manitowoc did build a series of large Staten Island ferries not long ago
In a further diversification, Fincantieri will take part in the program for dismantling Russian nuclear submarines by building a specialised ship for the transport of toxic radioactive waste for the Russians. This vessel will transport of irradiated fuel and radioactive waste and the order, for delivery in 2011, is worth €70 million.

Meyer Werft

Meyer Werft of Papenburg got its start in building ferries and then cruise ships starting with the Homeric (now Costa Italia) in 1985 and Crown Odyssey (now Balmoral) in 1988, and has since built series of ships for Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Star Cruises/NCL and Aida. Its latest delivery will be this year's Celebrity Solstice, its largest ship yet at 122,000 tons. Its first passenger ship was the MV Liemba, built as the Graf von Götzen, a passenger cargo ferry that runs along the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika and was built in 1913.

Since the acquisition of Chantiers de l'Atlantique by Aker and the acquisition of Aker by STX, it has become a bit like the ham in the sandwich, but it has good designs, modern methods and loyal customers. As well, it has been able to fill slack periods by building other vessels such as container ships, some of which have also been fitted with passenger capacity.

Lloyd Werft Waits

Known for its delivery and refit of ships such as Costa Victoria, Norwegian Sky, Norwegian Sun and Pride of America, this Bremerhaven shipyard will learn by the end of this year whether Italian shipbuilding group Fincantieri will increase its stake in it to a majority 51%. At present, Fincantieri holds 21% of the German yardıs equity. As well, Lloyd Werft operate the cruise ship refit yard in Freeport, Bahamas, on the doorstep of all the major Florida cruise ports.

The Future

As well as the majors, now reduced to three from four, Mariotti Brothers in Italy have built several ships for Silversea and Regent and is now building three ships for Carnival affiliate Seabourn. Even little Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is building a very sophisticated all-suite vessel, the 210-berth all-balcony Pearl Mist, for US offshore owners Pearl Seas Cruises. But not many yards have built serious cruise ships and many that have have since left the business.

People have been waiting for some time to see whether Asian shipyards will come into the cruise ship market. Mitsubishi has built ships for Crystal, and Princess more recently, and so far the South Koreans have built several sophisticated overnight ferries.
The real problem is not the construction of the hulls and the steelwork, but the very sophisticated fitting out process that is farmed out to a small number of very specialised outfitters and contractors. It is felt that this is what has held the Japanese back and kept them in the container, bulk carrier and tanker markets.
But now that one of Europe's largest cruise ship builders owned in South Korea, we will see. The future could be very different.

(Source: By Mark Tré -

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