Last year I wrote about a shipbuilding place we ran into while bicycling in Narayanganj. I still remember, vividly, the scale and ingenuity of the operation.
Today, I heard a talk by Mr. Saiful Islam, Chairman of Western Maritime Ship Yard Limited. His company is one of a handful in Bangladesh which builds ships for export. He said that in the last six months Bangladeshi companies had secured orders (from EU countries) of USD 600 million for building oceangoing ships.
Bangladesh is known mostly as a shipwrecking country, said Mr. Islam. But little does the world know about her long shipbuilding heritage. Hundreds of years ago, ships were built here for the Ottoman empire. The Royal Navy was also supplied by ships built here - some were used in the battle of Waterloo in 1805.
This long tradition of excellence is just one of our competitive advantages. The knowledge of English (compared to, say, Vietnamese), our innate understanding of boatbuilding (which I have a renewed respect for after my Sundarban visit - there were more types of boats than you can shake a stick at) and our competitive labor costs are other advantages.
Bangladesh can best target the market for 3000-12000 tonner boats, he said. Asked who the competition would be, he said neither China nor India is interested in <30000 tonners, and so the main competition is Vietnam.
Mr. Islam said the government needs to support this industry more. Today they get no subsidies while shipbuilding industries in other countries get as much as 40-60% government subsidy.
A very inspiring story - one which might lead to a new export breakthrough.
PS I heard the talk while on a daylong cruise on the MV Sarina, a 40 meter cruising vessel built by Mr. Islam's company. It is a marvellous boat which caters to corporate clients - a floating conference room, if you will. The occasion was a daylong seminar on the Future Directions for Bangladesh organized by The Daily Star, a day well-spent.