In the last year, the recession and the Deepwater Horizon disaster have dominated the pages of WorkBoat.
By now, I expect that, like me, most of you have been suffering from Deepwater Horizon fatigue. Unfortunately, the offshore is still suffering from the fallout from the Macondo well blowout, and this will likely continue for some time.
While important, there is much more to the workboat industry than the offshore sector, as we are reminded each year in our annual Yearbook issue.
We have been reporting on the recession’s impact on the industry since it began to take hold in late 2008. Like the rest of the economy, the workboat industry has taken its share of lumps. Still, while business is certainly nowhere near early 2008 levels, there are plenty of encouraging signs as the nation struggles to regain its economic footing.
For shipyards, the market is spotty, with some yards flush with work and others laden with empty construction sheds. Back in ’08, yard backlogs were healthy, and vessel operators were hard pressed to find open slots to get their new boats built. But the recession shrank the backlogs and new contracts slowed. Now, boatbuilders and others believe that as the economy improves, companies will unleash pent-up demand and seek to replace tonnage and upgrade their fleets. Yard officials say they are beginning to see more serious inquiries and fewer tire kickers.
And there are other positive signs. The new tug construction market, though not nearly as heated as it was a few years ago, is anything but dead. There has been some brisk construction activity with tug-barge units for the Alaska market, several tugs destined for the Gulf and East coasts, and ATB units underway at yards in the Northwest and Gulf of Mexico.
On the inland waterways, barge operators, despite recent flooding and high fuel prices, are also seeing positive signs. Partly due to an improving economy, barge traffic has been up, with export coal, fertilizer and grain realizing recent tonnage gains.
On the leisure side, passenger vessel operators are enjoying some of their strongest advance bookings in years, as people and companies begin to head back to the water. Is more improvement on the way? We’ll see.