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China and South Korea Both Claim Leadership in Shipbuilding

shipbuilding competitoon between China and Japan
China received the majority of the tonnage ordered in the first half of 2021 (file photo of CSSC yard)

Published Aug 11, 2021 7:47 PM by The Maritime Executive

Who is ahead in the battle to be the leading shipbuilding country in the world? In the hotly contested back and forth between China and South Korea, officials from both countries are citing the latest data to say they are winning the greatest number of orders as the new order boom continues across many parts of the shipping industry. 

Chinese officials touted the performance of their shipbuilding industry for the first six months of 2021 saying that they had received half of all the orders reported during the period. While admitting that their Chinese rivals had booked more orders for the first part of the year, South Korea touted that they were ahead for the past three months, while their leading shipbuilders highlighted their success at meeting or exceeding full-year forecasts.

According to data released by the China Association of the National Shipbuilding, new shipbuilding orders received by the Chinese yards accounted for more than half of the global share for the first six months of 2021. They cited the strong demand for containerships coming from the world’s leading carriers as they work to expand capacity to meet the ongoing volume growth in container shipping.

China's new ship orders they announced accounted for 51 percent of the global share with the average monthly orders reaching 6.37 million dwt. While China's completed orders grew by 19 percent year-on-year in the first half of 2021 they noted that orders were nearly twice the ships completed during the period building their backlog. They also said that China was experiencing a rise in high-end ship orders. 

Using data from global market researcher Clarkson Research Service, South Korea however highlighted that its shipyard had beaten China in each of the past three months in terms of new orders. For July, they reported that South Korean yards booked orders for 24 of the 100 ships contracted for in the period. They said it amounted to a total of 1.81 million compensated gross tons (CGTs) in new orders, or 45 percent of 4.01 million CGTs ordered last month. By comparison, the Clarkson data showed that China received orders for 1.77 million CGTs.

While highlighting their leadership in May through July, the Clarkson data however also shows that China received the most orders in the first half of the year. The total orders in the period were 29.7 million CGTs, more than three times the orders placed in the first half of 2020 during the COVID-related lockdowns. 

Chinese shipbuilders ranked first with new orders totaling 13.48 million CGTs, or 474 ships, representing 45 percent of the market. South Korean shipbuilders were, however, a close second with 42.6 percent of the market or 12.76 million CGTs.

Worldwide, Clarkson reported that the backlog for orders was up nearly 10 percent to almost 84.5 million CGTS. China holds nearly 40 percent of the backlog while South Korea has about a third of the global order book.

Shipbuilders in the two countries will continue to compete for all the new orders, while they also seek to distinguish themselves with new technologies. The governments in both countries have pledged support to the shipbuilding industry in the race to grow the orders books and in turn the economic contributions.