Having evolved from an old traditional activity in Anatolia to an internationally recognized industry, Turkey's shipbuilding sector is giving its eastern counterparts fierce competition.
With a long tradition of seafaring in the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Aegean, Turkey has been home to shipyards for centuries. By the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire had become one of the leading shipbuilders in the world, with many shipyards working full-time around the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn.
That tradition is still alive and thriving today. Turkey is now home to just under 80 shipyards as well as over 580 smaller boat production workshops—mainly clustered around Tuzla, Yalova, and İzmit—whose competitively-priced products are on par with East Asian and European vessels in terms of quality. The sector has experienced something of a rebirth since the early 2000s, with its annual turnover reaching USD2.5 billion, while attracting notable investments over the last 15 years, according to the Ministry of Transport, Maritime Affairs, and Communications. This healthy growth coincides with a period of stagnation in the global shipbuilding market. In 2017 alone, the country exported over USD1.33 billion worth of vessels, based on data by Turkish Exporters Assembly (TİM). Norway and other North European countries, in particular, are keen customers of Turkish ships and yachts, buying almost a quarter of all vessels. Of the USD3.3 billion worth of ships of various sizes and types built in Turkey between 2015 and 2017, nearly 28% ended up in Norwegian and Icelandic ports. And, pricing is not the only incentive for the buyers. Turkish shipbuilders are highly customer-oriented, making tailor-made products while following global industry standards, which gives the sector an advantage over Asian players. Demir Koloğlu, general manager of Sefine Shipyard, which regularly exports to Europe, said “It is hard to compete with the East Asian shipyards, which is why we focus on tailor-made ships for European countries.” Turkish shipyards specialize in a range of products including tankers, sailing boats, mega-yachts, ferryboats, and tugboats that are mostly bound for Europe. The bulk of orders in recent years, however, have been placed for low-tonnage tankers, fishing boats, and mega-yachts, according to the Ministry of Economy. The sector has also ventured into the more serious realm of military boats. Ares Shipyard, an Antalya-based shipyard with a presence in Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman, among other countries, manufactures coastguard boats and assault ships. Its chairman, Kerim Kalafatoğlu, is confident that, at least for his company, the “military and navy side of the business will dominate for the foreseeable future.” Another winning card for the sector is the fact that Europeans prefer working with Turkish shipyards over Asian suppliers because post-sales services, repairs, and alterations can be arranged and delivered far more easily. Indeed, the industry is by no means limited to the production of vessels; maintenance, upgrading, conversion, recycling, and subsidiary industries are just as lucrative. Boatyards across the country’s western coast are active in this area, as well. Sefine Shipyard, for instance, has thus far completed a number of conversion projects, restructuring vessels into cement carriers or livestock carriers. While the country’s capacity for newbuilding is around 5 million deadweight tons per year, its maintenance capacity exceeded 25 million deadweight tons in 2015. Notably, it is estimated that maintenance services generate approximately USD1 billion per year. Turkey’s shipbuilding sector has certainly come a long way from a heritage industry to a world-class industry with the required know-how, capacity, and competitiveness to satisfy international customers from the Nordic Seas to the Gulf, and there is no doubt the sector will stay afloat for the foreseeable future.
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