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German shipyards lose a sixth of their jobs

After last year's bankruptcies in German shipbuilding, the number of jobs in the shipyards has fallen sharply.

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German shipyards lose a sixth of their jobs

After last year's bankruptcies in German shipbuilding, the number of jobs in the shipyards has fallen sharply. The core workforce of the shipyards for shipbuilding on the North and Baltic Seas is currently only around 14,000 employees, around 2,600 - 16 percent - fewer than a year ago, the IG Metall trade union reported on Friday at the presentation of its shipbuilding survey 2022. "This downward spiral we have to stop as soon as possible, otherwise we will not have the basis for a functioning value chain," said Daniel Friedrich, district manager of IG Metall Coast. The Agency for Structure and Personnel Development (AgS) had interviewed works councils at 42 shipyards on behalf of IG Metall Coast.

Friedrich said it was not about tradition, but about the impending loss of a strategically important industry for Germany. Dependence on South Korea and above all on China in shipbuilding continues to grow. “Germany and Europe must maintain their future viability in a global economy. For this we need shipyards and suppliers who ensure economic independence by building cargo ships and ferries and who make an important contribution to the energy supply by building special ships and platforms for the offshore industry.”

The massive downward trend is mainly related to the insolvency of the three MV shipyards in Wismar, Stralsund and Rostock-Warnemünde in January. Until January, they belonged to the tourism and gaming group Genting Hong Kong, which had cruise ships built in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, primarily for the Chinese market. Around 1900 former employees of MV Werften are still in transfer companies, said Thorsten Ludwig from AgS. ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems plans to have submarines built at the Wismar shipyard by 2024. In Stralsund, a maritime business park is to be created with the participation of the city. The shipyard in Rostock-Warnemünde has served as a naval arsenal for the German Navy since August 1, and warships are to be repaired and renovated there. Many former employees of MV Werften are likely to find new work at the three locations.

However, the bankruptcies of the past year have been accompanied by a massive shift away from civil shipbuilding to naval shipbuilding - and with it a greater dependence on government contracts. The oldest German shipyard Pella Sietas in Hamburg disappeared completely from the market after its insolvency, as did Fosen Yard in Emden recently. The former MV shipyards in Wismar and Rostock-Warnemünde, which now work for the marine business, are two of the largest shipyards in Germany.

Daniel Friedrich said that the federal government must help the shipyards in this situation with the quick implementation of orders for naval, research and government ships. "Procurement offices must not get lost in the procurement jungle and they must find answers to the high inflation, which must not be borne solely by the contractors."

The shipyard industry hopes that the forthcoming technological renewal of the commercial fleets in terms of climate protection could also bring new orders to the German shipyards with their high level of technological knowledge. "In view of their exorbitantly high profits, the German and European shipping companies have to build more ships and have them renewed in Europe instead of in Asia," said Friedrich. "In the end, that too is a question of long-term, secure value chains in shipbuilding."

By contrast, German shipyards have now completely separated themselves from the offshore wind power market. Ten years ago, the companies in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania built the world's first direct current converter stations for offshore wind farms, but in 2016 the then Nordic shipyards gave up this business due to a lack of orders. The market for offshore wind power equipment is now many times larger than it was in the past decade, but most of the offshore industry has disappeared from Germany's shores.

"There is still a great deal of uncertainty among the shipyards as to whether they should return to this market with high investments," said Friedrich. In the past decade, the then grand coalition of Union and SPD had slowed down the expansion of offshore wind power in German waters - and ultimately choked off the domestic market.

The Belgian company Smulders wants to build converter stations on part of the shipyard in Rostock-Warnemünde. Whether that succeeds depends on whether the federal government leases or sells the southern part of what is now the naval arsenal to Smulders. The Federal Ministry of Defense is currently examining whether the Bundeswehr has a long-term need for these areas or whether industry can be relocated there again. "It would be fatal if the federal government and Smulders did not come together," said Friedrich. "There may not be another chance for the location to get back into the offshore wind power business."

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