Korea aims to be world’s third-largest shipping industry despite billion-dollar losses

South Korea’s shipping industry brought in revenues of $34.5bn during 2015, some $7.8bn behind the 2012 figure due to the depressed market, the Korean Shipowners Association (KSA) says.

In spite of this, Korea still aims to be the world’s third-largest shipping industry by 2025, the KSA’s vice-chairman Kim Young-moo told the Korean-Hellenic Maritime Cooperation Forum in Athens today.

The country aims to achieve $100bn in annual revenue and a fleet totalling 150m gross tons (GT), said Kim, who conceded that it would be difficult in the current economic climate.

One industry figure who would agree is outspoken Euronav CEO Paddy Rodgers, who blasted South Korea’s grand ambitions on Tuesday, saying “Korea has never had an economy that would have warranted the size of the shipbuilding industry it has today”.

Rodgers predicted shipyards will close en masse in Korea and China, causing a big reduction in vessel production capacity.

“The Korean and Chinese governments have come to terms with the fact that things need to change,” he told the TradeWinds Shipowners’ Forum.

South Korea is currently home to the world’s fifth-largest shipping industry. Its fleet has grown from 760,000 GT in 1970 to 43m GT today, according to KSA data.

Some 52 of the KSA’s member companies reported financial losses during the fiscal year 2015, while 99 reported profits, and a pattern has emerged between tramp and liner companies operating different vessel sizes, Kim told the forum, held as part of Posidonia.

In Korea’s liner sector, major companies such as Hyundai Merchant Marine and Hanjin Shipping are undergoing restructuring, mostly facilitated by the state, with some $9.5bn earmarked for investment. Meanwhile, small and medium-sized liner companies have reported stable profits, Kim told delegates.

The situation is the opposite in the tramp market, with major carriers such as Daehan and Pan Ocean remaining profitable, while Korea’s 160 small and medium-sized tramp shipping companies have been subject to restructuring within the market, Kim went on.

Korea invested $9bn in 209 vessels owned by four Korean companies during 2002 alone, when it established its national ship investment scheme, similar to KG and KS schemes in Germany and Norway.


Holly Birkett

Holly is Splash's Online Editor and correspondent for the UK and Mediterranean. She has been a maritime journalist since 2010, and has written for and edited several trade publications. She is currently studying for membership of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers. In 2013, Holly won the Seahorse Club's Social Media Journalist of the Year award. She is currently based in London.
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