This is the final part of a two-part series exploring the potential and challenges of the shipbuilding industry in Bangladesh
With an increasing number of orders from both local and global buyers, the shipbuilding industry of Bangladesh is flourishing rapidly, contributing to diversification of the country’s export basket and generating employment opportunities.
Since 2009, Bangladeshi shipbuilders have earned $170 million by exporting small- and medium-sized ships to 14 countries, Western Marine Shipyard Managing Director Engr Md Sakhawat Hossain said while speaking to the Dhaka Tribune.
He said: “All types of inland and coastal vessels are being built in Bangladeshi shipyards. Currently, shipbuilders in the country have 30 orders from local buyers and eight from foreigners.”
Local shipbuilders are expecting more and more work orders, as global shipbuilding industries are overbooked with orders from numerous buyers from all over the world.
Ananda Shipyard Chairman Abdullahel Bari said: “If the government provides long-term facilities to this sector, including block allocations, we will certainly be able to grab an even bigger share of the global market within a few years.”
Currently, some 30,000 people have been employed in the shipbuilding sector, he added.
Western Marine Shipyard Chairman Md Saiful Islam said there would be job opportunities for 20,000 more people in the industry within the next five years and for 100,000 within 15 years.
From breakers to makers
The shipbuilding industry has emerged as an important sector in Bangladesh economy, and the country does have a rich history in the shipbuilding industry with accounts found in writings of many travellers who visited Bengal more than 200 years ago.
The British navy used ships built in Bengal in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, when Lord Nelson defeated Napoleon’s fleet.
However, the Chittagong-based industry started waning in the latter part of the 19th century due to the use of steam engines and the discriminatory policy of British colonial rulers who were determined to protect their shipbuilding industry in the United Kingdom, despite claims that ships made in Bengal were cheaper and more durable, according to Banglapedia.
During the first three decades following World War II, ships were usually built in Europe and Japan. Over the last two decades of the 20th century, shipbuilding work started to move away from Europe towards low-cost countries in Asia, notably Korea, with China also entering the market in the last decade.
India, Indonesia, and Vietnam also entered the industry during the last decade. Later, the industry started its journey in Bangladesh, as the country has immense potential and several advantages over its rivals, including cheap labour.
However, following the 1971 Liberation War, businesses that were earlier involved in ship disposal started focusing on building ships, and Bangladesh got its first exposure to the international shipbuilding market in 1979.
Currently, there are 69 yards at various across the country that are building and repairing almost all kinds of inland and coastal vessels.
Of the shipyards, nearly 70% are located in and around Dhaka and Narayanganj along the riverbank of Buriganga, Shitalakya, and Meghna, 20% along the Karnapuli river in Chittagong, and 6% along the Poshur river in Khulna, and the remaining 4% in Barisal division.
Bangladeshi shipbuilders are now building a number of diversified types of vessels such as multipurpose vessel, fast patrol boat, container vessel, cargo vessel, tanker, dredging barge, ferry, passenger vessel, landing craft, tourist ship, tugboat, supply barge, deck loading barge, pleasure craft, crane boat, speed boat, deep-sea trawler, self-propelled barge, inspection vessel, cargo coaster, troops carrying vessel, double-decker passenger vessel, hydro-graphic survey boat, pilot boat, hospital ship, and water taxi.