A 32-hundred-ton Goliath crane stands tall at a shipyard in Changwon, Gyeongsangnam-do Province.
“This 105-meter-tall crane was once a symbol of Korea’s prosperous shipbuilding industry. But it’s now being dismantled to be shipped off to Romania in a fire sale.”
The crane was once valued at over 22 million U.S. dollars but that’s since plunged to two million.
It’s illustrative of the ongoing slump in the shipbuilding industry, which has forced small and mid-sized Korean shipbuilding companies to close up shop and sell off their assets.
“This shipyard used to be bustling with workers. But now it’s all gone. Two-thousand people have lost jobs. It’s heartbreaking.”
A bit further south in the city of Geoje, home to the world’s two leading shipbuilders, the effects of the industry’s demise are even more stark.
This government employment support center that opened last August is visited by over 150 people a day.
“I’ve worked at Daewoo Shipbuilding for 34 years. I left last October. I don’t know what I can do other than building ships, so I came here to get job training, and will hopefully find a new job soon.”
Over 10-thousand people in Geoje have lost their jobs this year alone.
But with the volume of orders for new ships expected to remain at a third of normal levels in the coming year, according to Clarksons Research, people with jobs still feel insecure.
“We don’t have as much work as in the past. No more nightshifts. Our wages have been frozen since last year and the situation is pretty bad. We rarely come out to have dinner together like today.”
As workers tighten their belts, restaurants and retail stores in the area are also feeling the strain.
“This street used to be full of workers who would hang out late until midnight. But now, you rarely see people eating in restaurants after ten p.m. Our sales have dropped by over half compared to the same period last year.”
For the last four decades, the shipbuilding industry has played a critical role in Korea’s economic development.
But due to plunging global oil prices and overcapacity, even the nation’s top three shipbuilders have struggled to stay afloat in recent years.
And on top of that, they’re in the process of working through an aggressive government-led corporate restructuring drive to pull themselves back from the brink.
“Korea’s shipbuilding industry has never been hit this hard. But still, it is a cyclical industry. The boom will come in a year or two. Though the current restructuring process is painful, Korea needs to prepare itself and keep its competitiveness.”
As the corporate restructuring drive continues, many people are leaving Geoje — streets and apartments are empty and stores are closed.
Here, this winter feels colder and harsher than ever, and many are holding out hope for an early spring.
Source: ArirangPrevious Next