The Indian Navy has suggested to the government that India acquire the knowhow to build supertankers and seek transfer of this technology to build the same tonnage warships on the pattern of US carriers.
Centre for Energy
"We have submitted a comprehensive Plan to the government seeking rapid expansion of shipbuilding capacity. We have to graduate to the level of building supertankers and transfer the same technology to warship building," Naval Chief Sureesh Mehta said today.
To bring about this rapid expansion, Mehta said the Naval blueprint has proposed public-private partnership. So far the country's shipbuilding has been the sole preserve of public sector undertaking mainly defence shipyards.
"Urgent steps need to be taken to drastically expand the capacity of existing shipyards and more shipyards need to come up," the Naval Chief Admiral said.
The existing shipyards are hardly able to manage an increasing demand of the Navy, and if steps were not taken, the expansion of the country's maritime force would be restricted in the near future, he said.
The new Naval plan, proposes doubling the nation's gross registered tonnage from the present 8,520 million, encompasses modernisation of shipyards, induction of new technologies and enhancement of ship design knowhow.
The Admiral's remarks assume significance in the context of New Delhi holding negotiations with South Korean and Singapore shipbuilders to import knowhow and technologies to build ships of more than 100,000-ton displacement. Recently plans were mooted by India and Singapore to form joint ventures to build warships and shipping vessels of more than 45,000 DWT.
Though shipbuilding is currently restricted to public sector shipyards, major private players like L&T have acquired capability to set up a shipyard.
The largest warships the country builds now are of 16,000-ton displacement. However, in an ambitious plan, the Kochi shipyard is building an indigenous carrier and ships of more than 45,000-ton displacement.
For this the Navy had to rope in Italian designers, as India still lacks ship design capability. The same shortcomings are coming in the way of designing the country's first-ever nuclear submarine.
Admiral Mehta said it was time India caught up with advanced nations to build ships of more than 100,000-ton displacement.
According to the government's Hydrocarbon Vision-2025, India would be importing as much as 62 million tons of natural gas by 2012, and this figure would climb up to 84 million tons by 2025.
And similarly, experts point out that crude oil import would increase from existing 101 million metric tons to 348 MMT by 2025. India does not have enough Indian-owned ships to carry these vital energy requirements.
To carry these huge payloads, India would require 25 super tankers by 2012 and 34 by 2025.
Supertankers are constructed in various stages. Components of the ship are made in advance, and assembled in stages. Then the components are put together using huge cranes. Finally, the completed hull is floated, and work begins on the inside fittings.
These gigantic ships have been built for a reason. Their small crews and giant payloads maximize shipping company profits. The volume of a ship increases as a function of the cube of its length. In other words, if you double the length of a ship, keeping all dimensions proportional, you increase its size and cargo capacity by eight times.
Although the ship will probably also cost eight times as much to build, with high oil prices, a supertanker carrying crude oil from Saudi Arabia to the east coast of North America can pay for itself after about four successful voyages.
The huge size of these ships, however, does not make them immune from accidents. Large storms and human error have caused many sinkings and spills since the first supertankers were built (in response to the temporary closing of the Suez Canal in 1956).
When the ship has reached port and is near the wharf, giant ocean-going tug boats come and pull and push it until it is tied up.
China has begun an ambitious effort to build a fleet of more than 90 supertankers to improve its control over oil imports which are vital to sustaining a booming economy, shipping industry experts say.
Government strategic planners in Beijing have set a target that half of the oil imports should be carried on Chinese-owned tankers. No deadline has been set to meet this goal, but Chinese shipping companies are expected to order as many as 65 supertankers, worth an estimated $7.1 billion, by 2012, according to transport analysts.
The move by China is seen as an attempt to gain more control over its energy supply.
"It is all about national energy security," said Yang Baohe, principal naval architect at the Marine Design & Research Institute of China in Shanghai, a subsidiary of the sprawling China State Shipbuilding Corp. "We have to be able to use our own ships to transport oil."
These ships, in addition to the existing Chinese fleet of 25 supertankers, would have the capacity to deliver about half of projected imports by about 2015.
A tanker fleet of that size would not put China in the same league as Japan, Norway or Greece, but it would be a sharp improvement in its oil shipment capacity.
Maritime security analysts say that one of the greatest Chinese fears is that oil deliveries could be threatened at a time of international tension or conflict.
Japan, which is totally reliant on imported oil, ships up to 90 percent of its crude in Japanese-registered supertankers, which the industry calls very large crude carriers, or VLCCs.
"Japan has more than 100 VLCCs in its national fleet, which means its oil is carried on its own tonnage," said Matthew Flynn, managing director of WorldYards.com, a shipbuilding consultancy based in Hong Kong.
"The main purpose is to make sure that you have a stable inflow of energy," said Bjorn Haugland, regional manager for greater China for the Norwegian maritime classification society, Det Norske Veritas. "If you rely on other countries' vessels, you do not have the same control over the fleet."
The two major state-owned shipbuilding groups, China State Shipbuilding and China Shipbuilding Industry, have invested heavily in technology and massive new dry docks to build supertankers.
Work started on the first supertankers in the late 1990s, and there are now six yards building these ships for local and foreign owners.
Of course the largest Supertanker Fleets are owned, not directly by governments, but through private companies:
Teekay Shipping Corp (US)
Mitsui OSK Lines (Japan)
Overseas Shipholding Group (US)
Saudi Aramco (Saudi Arabia)
OMI Corp (US)
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