FORUM OKRĘTOWE: To regain the strength of the shipbuilding industry

On May 15, 2024, the General Assembly of the Association of Polish Maritime Industries FORUM OKRĘTOWE was held. The place of the meeting was the REMONTOWA SHIPBUILDING shipyard in Gdańsk, and its leading theme was how to regain the strength of the shipbuilding industry in light of global challenges.

The guests of honour at the meeting were: Secretary of State in the Ministry of Infrastructure Arkadiusz Marchewka, Vice-Chairman of the Budget Committee of the European Parliament Janusz Lewandowski and Chairman of the Board of the Gdańsk Region of NSZZ “Solidarność” trade union Krzysztof Dośla.

Among the guests were also representatives of the trade union – the Chairman of the National Section of the Shipbuilding Industry of NSZZ “Solidarność” Mirosław Piórek and its Vice-Chairman – Krzysztof Żmuda, the former director of FORUM OKRĘTOWE Stanisław Ciesiółka and a great friend of the shipbuilding industry – editor Marek Kański.

In the first part of the meeting, representatives of the shipbuilding industry took the floor. Irek Karaśkiewicz, director of FORUM OKRĘTOWE, who opened it, presented the situation in the shipbuilding industry from a global perspective and pointed to the growing threats to Europe and Poland:

– China – unlike the European Union – has considered the shipbuilding industry strategic for achieving the goal of a dominant position at sea, which is a means to world domination. A kind of undeclared war has been waged against us for several decades. These days, no one bombs or burns European shipyards, but the effect is much the same – they have been disappearing in Europe one by one during the last 25 years. This modern lethal weapon that destroys European shipyards is subsidised production. The world is flooded with Chinese products, often sold at artificially low prices – including ships.

The prices of many Chinese goods are not the result of price competition between firms, which is natural in a free-market economy, but are often hand-set by the Chinese Communist Party to kill competition. This is a blow to our production capacity including war production and shipbuilding which is the foundation of our security. And perhaps preparation for something much worse. Let us remember that China is currently Russias closest ally. It was not Europe, or more broadly, the West, that declared this war, but we must start defending ourselves effectively if we want to survive. The regaining of the strength of the shipbuilding industry in Poland and Europe is a key issue for our security. This is the purpose of the “Maritime Industrial Strategy” presented by SEA Europe in the European Parliament on April 17, 2024.

In the further part of the speech, the director of FORUM OKRĘTOWE presented the data on shipbuilding production and discussed the planned “Maritime Industrial Strategy”. He stressed the need for close cooperation on its creation and implementation with the Polish government and representatives of Poland in the European Parliament.

Adam Ruszkowski, President of REMONTOWA HOLDING, then thanked Minister Arkadiusz Marchewka and MEP Janusz Lewandowski for accepting the invitation to the meeting, emphasising how important it is for representatives of the shipbuilding industry to cooperate with the government and Polish representatives in Brussels on solutions on which the future of our industry depends. Today, it is largely decided in Brussels. Then he discussed the most important projects currently being implemented in the Holdings shipyards, including passenger-car ferries, three already at various stages of construction, and ships for the Polish Navy. Referring to the “Maritime Industrial Strategy” discussed in the introduction, he emphasised the fundamental importance of the return of financing shipbuilding production by European and Polish banks. Financing is a fundamental problem that needs to be solved if we are serious about rebuilding the shipbuilding industry. This is a problem for shipowners and shipyards. It has a pan-European dimension, but we are also experiencing it in Poland, and we should start by solving it. At the end of his speech, a film showing the progress of constructing ro-pax ferries was shown.

The CEO of REMONTOWA SHIPBUILDING, Dariusz Jaguszewski, then took the floor and discussed the projects currently being implemented for the Navy, which are already under construction: 3 more KORMORAN-class minehunters and 2 SIGINT radio-electronic reconnaissance units from the DELFIN program. He emphasised that nowadays, there is no margin for mistakes or delays. REMONTOWA SHIPBUILDING approaches the implementation of these projects with the utmost responsibility, being fully aware of how important their timely completion is for the security of our country. He emphasised that in addition to military production, the shipyard also implements commercial projects, including a recently contracted double-sided ferry for its long-term customer from Norway and the production of blocks for the second and third ro-pax for Polish shipowners.

In the second part of the meeting, Arkadiusz Marchewka, the Secretary of State in the Ministry of Infrastructure, referred to the voices presented by representatives of the shipbuilding industry.

Thank you for the invitation and the opportunity to talk to you directly. I want to clarify from this place that maritime issues are one of our governments priorities. I am glad to say this in this shipyard, a source of pride for our country, which is well known worldwide and whose brand of a well-managed private company has been diligently built for many years. I want to assure you that we prioritise our efforts to equip Polish shipowners with new ferries, and we are trying to make up for many years of delays through no fault of our own. If, in 2017, the construction of ferries had been commissioned by the shipyard that is currently implementing them, they would probably already be sailing at sea. It is also very important for us to support all activities at the European Union level aimed at rebuilding the strong position of the shipbuilding industry on our continent. Our joint presence at this meeting, mine and MEP Lewandowski’s, clearly shows that these activities will be strongly supported. There is not the slightest doubt that a common strategy of the European Union is needed to oppose the monopolistic activities of our global competitors and to ensure that the shipbuilding industry in Europe is once again in a strong position. I want to declare my full support for our government’s work on solutions in this direction. This is my first meeting with your organisation. I hope for good, fruitful cooperation in the future. I also want to clarify that our government will subjectively treat private enterprises. You will be a partner in conversation on healthy, normal terms. This is necessary to build a strong, modern shipbuilding industry and, more broadly, the entire maritime economy of our country.

Janusz Lewandowski, Vice-Chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgets, then said:

– The data presented during the introductory presentation show huge abuses on the part of China. The country was admitted to the World Trade Organization in 2001 with the consent of the United States. Still, it treats the rules of this organisation in its way: not reciprocating the openness of the market and subsidising the production of many goods. It also takes control of critical infrastructure, including port infrastructure, in many countries. These practices have become a problem for the entire global economy, and initiatives are being taken to counteract them. They are also necessary in the shipbuilding industry. The Polish shipbuilding industry, in its current shape, praises private entrepreneurship. Entities controlled by the State account for less than 5% of the revenue of the entire shipbuilding industry. I am pleased that the demands raised by private companies at this meeting are calls for the restoration of the principles of healthy, fair competition on a global scale, and I, for my part, declare my full support for all initiatives in this area at the level of the European Union.

During the meeting, new members of the FORUM OKRĘTOWE presented themselves. Tomasz Namsolleck, CEO of STAL-REM, presented the company’s production capabilities and plans for the near future. He emphasised the importance that the management attaches tothe diversification of orders from various customers, which ensures the company’s stable operation. Deputy Director of KARSTENSEN SHIPYARD POLAND Bartłomiej Kopaczewski presented investment and development plans in the newly opened production branch in Gdańsk. He emphasised that the planned modern infrastructure will match the historical appearance of the prefabrication hall, and its shape is consulted with the Provincial Conservator of Monuments.

Two upcoming major events under the patronage of the FORUM OKRĘTOWE were also discussed: the MARITIME ECONOMY FORUM 2024 in Gdynia, whose leader and main organiser is the President of INTER MARINE, Sławomir Kalicki, and the BALTEXPO 2025 Fair, the organisation of which is supervised by the President of the INTERNATIONAL GDANSK FAIR, Andrzej Bojanowski. Both events are the most important events for the shipbuilding industry in Poland, have made their activities very dynamic, and are a great promotion for our industry.

We asked Irek Karaśkiewicz, director of FORUM OKRĘTOWE, for comment after the meeting:

– It was a very valuable exchange of ideas, and we are very pleased that we are joining forces to defend the shipbuilding industry, a key industry for the security of Europe and Poland. Today, its fate will be decided at the level of the European Union, which is waking up from lethargy after so many years. The world is finally seeing the true face of China Russia’s closest ally and Chinese actions destabilising the global economy. The very good atmosphere of the meeting has already transformed into specific arrangements and plans that will be implemented together in the future. Many key events for the shipbuilding industry will take place during the Polish presidency of the European Union, which will fall in the first half of 2025. It is then I hope that the mentioned “Maritime Industrial Strategy” will be introduced, and Poland can make a very important contribution to its implementation. I hope that the great atmosphere of the meeting will transform into good cooperation in the future.

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