AUSMARINE editorial – May 2012
It is always difficult to obtain accurate statistics to describe Australia and New Zealand’s marine and maritime industries. Indeed, I recently saw Australia’s leisure marine sector given an annual sales value of 35 billion dollars. That, of course, is ludicrous.
We used to know what the fishing industry was worth. The Bureau of Agricultural Economics accorded it an annual – non blackmarket – catch value of 2.4 billion dollars at its peak. At that stage, there were about 6,000 boats in the fleet, so we were looking at a catch value of around $400,000 per boat which seemed a little high but reasonably logical.
The total value of the fleet was three to four billion dollars and about 18,000 people were employed in the industry. Of course, thanks to the depredations of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, the catch value has fallen by 33 percent plus and the number of boats and people employed by more than 55 percent.
Cargo shipping is also comparatively easy to derive figures for and they are pretty dismal. When we started in this business in 1978 there were about 125 Australian flagged cargo ships. Now, I understand that figure is about 18. A decline that is probably due equally to government disinterest and union greed and stupidity.
That pretty much, is the bad news. The good news, which far outweighs the bad, is that other parts of the maritime sector are flourishing. For example, offshore oil and gas and port and coastal construction are booming.
Massive investment booms in mining and oil and gas developments have led to huge increases in associated marine activity. OSVs, tugs, work boats, pilot boats, dredgers and construction vessels, even dedicated ambulance boats have all sprung up around the coast in the wake of those developments.
Staggering amounts of money, billions upon billions of dollars, have and are being committed to those developments right around the Australian mainland coast.
George Bush-inspired paranoia led to a boom in patrol boat construction which is only now beginning to taper off. The same builders are benefitting from a swing to building rescue boats for which money is being raised right around Australia and New Zealand. The boats are fundamentally similar.
The ferry market has been choppy but it is always there. It is a rare month that doesn’t see at least one ferry or tourist vessel featured in this magazine.
Pilot boats, of course, tend to get bigger and better and, thanks to the significant increases in ships using our ports, more numerous.
So, right now, the growth is coming from new, more numerous and better tugs, pilot boats and harbour craft that are required by our ever busier existing ports combined with the dramatic development of our mining and offshore oil and gas sectors.
As I mentioned, it is difficult to obtain worthwhile and accurate statistics to quantify that growth. All I can happily and positively say is that it is enormous.
It far more than compensates for the losses in the fishing and Australian flag cargo shipping sectors. My guess is that the real value of the new maritime economy would be well over ten times that of what prevailed ten years ago.
Obviously, booms like this will not last forever. They always turn to busts. However, the baseline of the maritime economy has lifted dramatically. It will never go back to where we were at the turn of the millennium.