South Korea Sets Sail for the Future: $534M Investment in Next-Gen Ship Technology
The South Korean government is setting sail on an ambitious course to propel the shipbuilding industry into the future, with a robust investment plan of $534 million over the next five years. The goal is clear: to bolster its position in providing the next wave of shipping solutions. This comprehensive strategy encompasses advancements in technology, exploration of alternative fuels, and an augmentation of manufacturing capabilities.
Currently, South Korea stands tall among global shipbuilders, fiercely competing with its Chinese counterparts, particularly excelling in what the government terms as “high-value ships.” Notably, the country dominates the construction of gas carriers, including Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) vessels. Leveraging this expertise, South Korea now aims to extend its reach into emerging segments such as ammonia, hydrogen, and battery-powered vessels. Furthermore, there is a substantial focus on cutting-edge developments, including autonomous shipping systems and the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) into maritime operations.
Vice Minister Youngjin Jang of South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) expressed optimism, stating, “With the global shipbuilding industry’s upturn adding a tailwind to Korea’s shipbuilding industry, we expect to see great opportunities for making a rebound and new leap.” This sentiment was echoed during the unveiling of the “K-Shipbuilding Strategy for Next-Generation Market Dominance” on November 15 at a ministerial meeting, emphasizing exports and investment promotions. MOTIE aspires to capture more than 80 percent of the next-generation shipbuilding market.
One key aspect of this strategy is the launch of technological development and demonstration projects. These initiatives center around three major carbon-free fuel sources: LNG, ammonia, and hydrogen. Concurrently, efforts will be made to facilitate the early commercialization of autonomous self-navigating ships. However, South Korean shipyards currently face a critical challenge in the form of a shortage of skilled workers. To address this, the government is taking measures to permit additional foreign workers and is pledging new policies to support training and apprenticeships.
As part of this commitment, MOTIE plans to train over 3,000 individuals as core technology talent while seeking collaborative ventures with overseas partners. The visa system will also undergo improvements based on mid-to-long term projections of foreign manpower requirements. In tandem with this, there is an emphasis on establishing an innovative manufacturing system geared towards heightened productivity. This includes substantial investments in the development of smart shipyards, with a specific call for increased utilization of robotics to usher in a digital transformation within the industry.
This expansive effort is not solely directed at the prominent shipbuilding entities – HD Hyundai, Samsung, and Hanwha Ocean – that currently lead South Korea’s shipbuilding industry. The government aims to support the entry of these companies into overseas markets and facilitate technology development, thereby enhancing the self-sustainability of small and medium-sized shipbuilders, as well as the materials and equipment industry.
Financial support infrastructure is set to undergo improvement, with a focus on strengthening collaboration across large corporations and the industry as a whole. This collaborative approach is envisioned to accelerate sustainable growth. Additionally, there are considerations for developing laws aimed at the “Promotion of Industrialization and Technological Innovation of the Next-Generation Shipbuilding Industry.” These laws would be strategically designed to expand exports and boost the performance of shipbuilders in securing bids. The South Korean shipyards are currently challenged by a lack of trained workers. The government has taken steps to permit additional foreign workers while promising new policies to support training and apprenticeships. As part of the new strategy, MOTIE said it will train over 3,000 people to be core technology talent, and seek technology collaboration with overseas partners. They will also improve the visa system based on the mid-to-long term projections on foreign manpower requirements.
In summary, South Korea’s ambitious blueprint for the shipbuilding industry not only envisions technological advancements and exploration of alternative fuels but also addresses critical challenges such as workforce shortages. The government’s commitment to fostering innovation, collaboration, and sustainability underscores its determination to steer the shipbuilding sector towards a prosperous and cutting-edge future.