Europe — A twilight industry or ready for revival?

Updated 5 Sep 2019

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European shipbuilding has been in decline for three quarters of a century and is now almost totally reliant on cruise and passenger ships for its existence now that the offshore boom has come to an end. Taking into account all merchant, passenger and offshore vessels delivered since January 2015 and remaining in the orderbook, European builders cannot even reach a combined total of more than 874 ships.

Those figures do not take into account vessels for inland waterways, marine civil engineering or private superyachts, which are still made in reasonable quantities. They also do not take into account Turkish shipbuilding activity which for this guide is included in the Rest of the World category. However, Russia is included as a European country and, rather than divide its production figures, yards in the Far East of Russia are still counted as European producers.

To some extent, the causes of the recent accelerated decline in European shipbuilding can be laid at the door of the EU. Around 15 years ago, the EU was scathing of the support given to South Korean yards, which were impacting European yards’ fortunes. That attitude has also been applied to EU member states, most notably in Spain and the newer members of the EU in Eastern Europe.

State aid having been discouraged, many of the yards have become economically unviable and have closed or contracted considerably. Even so, in terms of deadweight, it is those countries which contribute most to European production figures.

At the height of the offshore boom, many ships were being built jointly by yards in Eastern Europe and yards in Norway. That co-operation is still continuing with a new breed of ship type that European yards are winning in quantity: expedition cruise ships. These are small vessels intended to take passengers to remote destinations such as the Arctic and Antarctic waters with activities including nature watching shore excursions, kayaking and the like replacing the more sedate attractions of traditional cruising.

These ships have their design roots in offshore vessels and it is therefore no surprise that the same builders should be involved. It is a niche area that Europe has staked a claim in but, just as with offshore, some of the contracts are being won by Asian yards using European designs.

In the more conventional offshore sector, there are still some vessels being built but increasingly they are for operators involved in offshore wind rather than oil and gas. As the price of crude oil rises – it is now hovering around the $70/bbl mark as opposed to under $30 in early 2016 – there may be a renaissance in offshore oil and gas exploitation. That could mean that the expedition cruise and wind farm vessels would have played an important role in keeping expertise in offshore vessels alive in Europe.

The cruise sector is another area where European expertise has kept yards busy. Cruising is a growing leisure industry and demand for ever-larger and more exotic ships is feeding the yards traditionally involved in this sector in Germany, Italy Finland and France. Even the awarding of a contract for the first Chinese-built cruise ships last year has done little to dent European domination.

Ferries are another ship type in constant demand in Europe with several contracts awarded each year. A very high proportion of the latest orders are for ships with strong environmental credentials. LNG power supplemented – and even in some cases displaced completely – by battery energy storage saving systems are the order of the day at the moment.


Croatia was once the mainstay of Yugoslavian shipbuilding but since the break-up of that country, it has become an EU member state. It once produced a wide range of ship types including tankers, car carriers, bulkers and ferries.

Two major players existed in the large ship construction sector, Uljanik which has two yards, and Brodosplit. Both have attracted orders but Uljanik has had a troubled recent history with financial difficulties and strikes by workers severely affecting production and leading to orders being cancelled.

At the time of writing in late March, it seems that Uljanik will be declared bankrupt after the government – which still has a stake in the company – refused further financial assistance. The decision will likely further delay completion of the expedition cruise ship Scenic Eclipse II being built for Scenic Tours. A long dispute with workers already led to the cancellation of a contract with Siem for four car carriers in September last year.

Brodosplit has also secured a contract for an expedition cruise ship from Quark Expeditions and has recently begun working on the ship’s construction. It is also building Flying Clipper which when completed will be the largest sailing cruise ship in operation.

Other builders in Croatia are mostly small scale operations building small ferries and similar ship types.

Production figures for Croatian builders from 2015 to end of 2017 were 46 ships for a deadweight of 304,525 tonnes. Last year 13 vessels for a total of only a mere 8,292dwt were built. The forward orderbook comprises 26 ships for 219,000dwt but the problems for Uljanik will likely mean some of these will be cancelled or heavily delayed.


Around six years ago, shipbuilding in Finland was almost dead. A succession of owners at the various yards in Helsinki, Turku and Rauma had seen the South Korean builder STX owning most of the shipbuilding facilities but the financial troubles of STX was causing distrust by customers and orderbooks had dried up.

Cruise shipbuilding was a major plank of Finnish shipbuilding and just a few years before its difficulties became apparent, STX had completed construction of what were then the largest cruise ships in the world – Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas. The yard in Turku was also responsible for Viking Grace, the world’s first cruise ferry to be powered by LNG, which was completed in 2013 and the cruise ship Mein Schiff 3.

With diminishing orders and requesting funds from the Finnish government to stay afloat, STX eventually sold the yards to German builder Meyer Werft which had been in discussions with the Finnish government about their acquisition.

Almost simultaneously, the Finnish government agreed for the sale of the ice class specialist builder Arctech to a Russian owner, USC. The Rauma yard was effectively closed but has since been revived by a new organisation: Rauma Marine Construction.

Since taking over the Turku yard in 2014, Meyer Werft has completed six ships; five of these were for TUI Cruises and are Mein Schiff 4 (2015) Mein Schiff 5 (2015), Mein Schiff 6 (2017) and Mein Schiff 1 and Mein Schiff 2 in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Although they appear to be out of sequence, the last two ships were replacements for older vessels operated by TUI. In addition, Meyer Werft completed the ro-pax ferry Megastar for Tallink in 2017.

Meyer Werft’s acquisition of the Turku yard has allowed it to expand the range of ships it can build and compete for orders for larger vessels than it is able to build at its initial yard in Papengburg, Germany. It now has orders for seven cruise vessels to be built at Turku through to 2024 for customers including TUI, Costa Cruises, Carnival and Royal Caribbean.

The two ships for Royal Caribbean are planned to incorporate fuel cell technology and be powered by LNG. The name of the first vessel due for delivery in 2022 is expected to be Icon of the Seas after its potential owner registered the Icon class as a trademark last year.

The Russian-owned Arctech yard has also been busy and has built and delivered a series of four 3,800dwt icebreaking standby safety vessels for Sovcomflot. The ships will operate in the Sakhalin 2 gas project. The last vessel, Yevgeniy Primakov, was delivered last year.

The new Finnish builder Rauma Marine Construction delivered its first vessel, the 18,000gt ro-pax ferry Hammershus, to Molslinjen in August last year and has secured a new order for an ice-class ferry for Kvarken Link run by Wasaline. The new vessel is planned to carry 800 passengers and has a freight capacity of 1,500 lane-metres for lorries. Its propulsion system will be a hybrid system with a combination of dual-fuel engine (LNG/Biogas and diesel/SCR) and batteries, with the main energy source being LNG.


Although France has some small shipyards engaged in constructing fishing vessels and small craft, the only shipbuilder of any consequence is Chantiers de l’Atlantique in Saint Nazaire. Like many European yards it has had a rollercoaster recent history. Before 2006 it was owned by Alstom, then Aker Yards and Alstom in partnership before being taken on by STX Europe. More recently a deal was agreed between the French government and Italian builder Fincantieri for the latter to take over running the yard and having a majority stake but at the end of March this year that matter was still being pondered by the EU competition authorities.

The French yard was chosen by Royal Caribbean to take over construction of the Oasis class when the future of the Turku yard in Finland was in doubt. The first of the French built ships, Harmony of the Seas, was delivered in 2016 and two others of the class are under construction. At 226,963gt, Harmony of the Seas is larger than its two sisters and is the largest cruise ship in the world. It also features an air lubrication system that the older ships do not have and along with other technological improvements is said to be 18% more efficient. The next two vessels are planned to have progressively higher gross tonnages.

As well as the two Oasis class ships, the yard’s orderbook also includes eight other large cruise ships shared between MSC Cruises (five ships) and Celebrity Cruises (three ships).


Once the leading builder in Europe in terms of ship numbers, Germany was renowned for building container ships for companies operating under the KG system. Yet now, its production figures dating back to 2015 and the orderbook which stretches through to 2023 do not contain a single pure container vessel.

With the ending of Germany’s love affair with container ships, there has been a long decline in the number of yards constructing ships of any type. Today, the yards producing ships are in single figures, with passenger shipbuilder Meyer Werft dominating production at its Papenburg yard. Also involved in passenger and cruise ship construction are the three yards of the Werften Group which are owned ultimately by the Genting Group in Hong Kong.

Meyer Werft has delivered two large cruise ships each year for the past four years and has an orderbook of 12 more for a variety of operators including Saga, Aida, Magical, Royal Caribbean and Carnival. Werften has four ships on order – two for Crystal Cruises at the Stralsund yard and two for Genting at the Wismar facility.

The two Global class vessels being built at Wismar are specially designed for the booming Asian cruise market. They can accommodate about 5,000 passengers in 2,500 cabins based on a twin-share basis – and up to 9,500 passengers during holiday peak season. At 342m long and 46.4m wide with 20 decks and a gross tonnage in excess of 200,000gt, they will be among the largest cruise vessels in service when delivered in 2021.

Meyer Werft’s yard at Papenburg is limited in the maximum size of ship it can build due to its inland location and the need for vessels to transit the Ems river to reach the sea. The two vessels being built for Saga are small by modern cruise ship standards at 56,850gt but all the remainder are from 135,000gt to 184,000gt.

Ro-ro and Ro-pax ships have been a specialisation of another German builder, Flensburger, and most of the leading European ferry operators have had ships built there. In 2014 the yard was acquired by Norwegian offshore operator Siem and has since built several offshore vessels and a series of ro-ro ferries for Siem that have since been chartered out, mainly for Mediterranean services.

Delays in completing the Irish Ferries’ ro-pax WB Yeats in 2018 cost the yard dear and it was in danger of bankruptcy before a financial rescue was launched by the investment group Sapinda which now has a 76% stake in the yard. The yard currently has six vessels on its orderbook including an even larger ro-pax for Irish Ferries and ro-ro ships for TT Line.

The only other yard of note still building is the Ferus Smit yard at Leer. In recent years it has delivered a series of 10,600dwt general cargo ships to ForestWave Navigation and Symphony Shipping. It currently has three chemical tankers on its books.


State-owned shipbuilder Fincantieri is the country’s and Europe’s largest shipbuilder and ranks fourth in the world after the two Chinese state-owned builders and South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy. Although it has in the past built various types of merchant and offshore ships, today only passenger vessels and warships are in production. In addition to the giant Fincantieri, Italy has around a dozen other yards building a range of ship types from small passenger vessels to offshore vessels, chemical tankers, ro-ros and general cargo ships.

Because passenger and cruise ships are the prime production at Fincantieri, measurement of output in deadweight terms is not appropriate. In terms of ship numbers it has built or is contracted to build 57 vessels from 2015 through to 2025. In gross tonnage terms, which is the most appropriate measure for passenger vessels, that equates to 5.3Mgt.

The list of clients covers virtually all of the major cruise operators and includes Costa Cruises, Aida, Carnival, Cunard, MSC Cruises, HAL, NCL, Princess Cruise Lines, Virgin, Viking Ocean and more.

The smaller yards also feature passenger vessels, with Mariotti having two expedition cruise ships on order for Seabourn. The vessels are the first of the new Damen Cruise design and signal a breakthrough for the Damen group into this sector.

Having delivered tow ro-ros in the past two years, the Visentini yard handed over the 28,658gt LNG-fuelled ro-pax Hypatia de Alejandria to Spanish operator Baleària Lines in January 2019. It now has two more ro-paxes on its books, including a sister ship for the Spanish-owned ferry operator.


Small general cargo and tankers have been the mainstay of Dutch shipyards for decades and, while the numbers of both ships and builders has dwindled over time, these continue to provide work.

Between 2015 and 2017, yards in The Netherlands produced 59 merchant vessels for a combined deadweight of 284,320 tonnes. Last year the figures were just seven vessels for 51,857 tonnes but the orderbook for 2019 through to 2023 is quite healthy, being 57 ships for 288,159 tonnes.

The figures in this guide are for passenger, cargo and offshore vessels and do not include some of the more specialist vessels that Dutch yards produce, including dredgers of different types, tugs, fishing vessels, inland passenger and cargo vessels or the megayachts that many Dutch yards specialise in. If these ship types were included, the numbers and tonnages would be two or three times those for the ship types covered.

Versatility and adaptability have been essential for Dutch builders to survive and even though general cargo ships are the bread and butter, in recent years it was offshore ships which have allowed yards such as De Hoop to survive. Having delivered a dozen PSVs and crew ships in the last four years, it still has three small crew ships on its orderbooks but the main work is being provided by a pair of expedition cruise ships of 6,000gt each. One is for Royal Caribbean and the other for Silversea which was acquired by Royal Caribbean last year. Both of the cruise vessels are intended for service in the Galapagos.

In number terms, Ferus Smit leads the pack of general cargo ship builders with most vessels being in the 5,000-9,000dwt range, with some larger ships of 16,500dwt. The first of these is Arklow Wave delivered last year with three sisters to follow. Arklow takes the majority of Ferus Smit’s production with Swedish operator Eric Thun a distant second in ship number terms.

Royal Bodewes builds similar ships to those at the smaller end of the Ferus Smit range, again with Arklow shipping as a major customer.

Royal IHC is mostly concerned with dredger construction but also takes on projects for large offshore vessels including crane ships, pipe layers and similar. It has delivered six pipe-layers in recent years and still has one on its orderbook.


As with so many Eastern European shipbuilding nations, Romania has seen its output shrink dramatically in recent years. The large tankers and container ships that were once fully built in Romania have all but vanished from the orderbook with just a series of six 41,000dwt product tankers being built for Histria Shipmanagement at Constanta still remaining.

Many of the ships credited to Vard’s Romanian yards in Tulcea and Braila have in fact been hulls only, with completion being carried out elsewhere; in the case of the many offshore vessels, usually in Norway. The offshore vessels have however been displaced by passenger vessels, both expedition cruise ships and ferries, but here again a large number of them will be completed at one or other of the various Vard yards in Norway.


For many years, Russian shipbuilding was limited in scope and consisted mostly of shallow-draughted river-sea vessels designed to make use of the country’s extensive inland navigation system and for trading in European coastal waters. These ships still make up the majority in number terms of ships built in Russia and there are half a dozen or so yards building these standardised vessel designs, mostly located inland.

In Russia’s Far East, a new facility has been established at the Zvezda yard. Formerly a military establishment, it has been updated and a deal has been agreed with Samsung for technology transfer to allow the yard to build ships for Rosneft and Sovcomflot. The vessels in its orderbook are mostly shuttle tankers of Aframax size which will have a high ice class and be dual-fuelled ships capable of running on LNG.


Traditionally Spain has built a wide range of ship types and this is still the case. The stream of offshore vessels that were once common has slowed to a trickle with just a few of the type still under construction. Two of these are for windfarm support in Danish waters.

The largest vessels in deadweight terms built in Spain – and indeed in Europe – are a series of six 159,000dwt crude tankers being built by Navantia for Ibaizabal Tankers. Three are in service with the others all due for delivery this year.

Other cargo ship types are sparse in the Spanish orderbooks with the only four ships all being for Greenland-based Royal Arctic line. In March the German KfW IPEX-Bank announced it was providing finance for two Polar Code-compliant 36m vessels with the highest ice class and specially equipped with on-board cranes and refrigerated container connections for transporting deep-frozen fish for export.

The new vessels will be built at the Nodosa shipyard, with a significant portion of the components sourced from Germany. A similar deal was completed previously for two larger vessels for the same owner, to be built by Zamakona.

The vast majority of the rest of the ships completed recently and in the orderbooks are passenger vessels of some sort. The Barreras yard has two of the new 15,800gt hybrid ro-pax vessels being constructed for the new Norwegian ferry operator Havila Kystruten. The ships were designed by the Norwegian owner’s shipbuilding and design division, acquired when it took over the Havila Group.

This year Spanish ferry company Baleària has contracted with Astilleros Armon at the Gijón shipyard for a dual-fuel Incat Crowther 125 design. The ship will feature dual-fuel engines and be among the largest fast catamarans in service once it is delivered in summer 2020. With a length of 125m and a beam of 28m, the new catamaran will have capacity of 1,200 passengers and 500 cars. It will be powered by a quartet of Wärtsilä 16V31DF main engines.

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