If Charles Dickens were alive today he would find that the opening sentence of A Tale of Two Cities is again appropriate. It is the best of times and it is also the worst of times.
The dredging industry around the world is booming. Dredge manufacturers are operating at capacity and have bulging order books for next year and beyond. Large dredging contracts around the world are moving forward and equipment being supplied for everything from dredging salt in Jordan to building islands in the Persian Gulf is keeping large numbers employed in our industry around the world.
And it is the worst of times – the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression. The collapse of Lehman Brothers in the U.S. started a global reaction that has the stock markets and credit markets all over the world plummeting particularly in the United States.
While it is not the best of times for dredging in India – yet – good times are just around the corner. Ports there are struggling to maintain their depths in the face of a serious shortage of dredging plant. The industry is striving to build the dredges and train enough operators to meet this need. Once the dredges are there they will stay busy maintaining India’s quickly-silting river channels and the country’s ports will be able to continue their fast-paced expansion.
Read in this issue about Haldia Port whose shipping channel in the Hooghly River has lost several meters of depth since last year causing fears that the port would close as shippers began diverting to other ports. At press time the Indian government had arranged for four high-capacity dredges to work in the 68-mile-long channel averting catastrophe for a long list of industries at Haldia.
Here in the United States after a frustrating decade of constrained dredging funding a group of waterways advocates has organized and is pushing to get the taxes that are collected from the shipping industry for harbor maintenance to be used for harbor maintenance.
Named RAMP for Realize America’s Maritime Promise the group cites the annual $1.3 billion collected by the tax which should more than cover all the dredging requirements of the nation. At present channels are allowed to silt up and are even abandoned in some cases – an unacceptable situation when sufficient money has been collected for the purpose with a $4 billion surplus from previous years.
RAMP is a coalition of determined organizations and individuals and should win through – we hope soon.
Once all the outstanding dredging jobs in the U.S. are funded the dredging industry here will be able to realize its potential and fully utilize the private dredging fleet.
Thank you to Steve Sandherr of the Associated General Contractors who provided an opinion on the passage in the United States of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 known as “the bailout” here in the U.S. For contractors that depend on cash and credit to operate the bill is a good thing he assures us though the effects of an action that nationalizes half the U.S. banking system remain to be determined.
One economic analyst said that global economic recovery will begin when one or two sectors begin a recovery which he expects to happen sometime next year. Perhaps the dredging industry will be that catalyst with its continued health even in the midst of the crisis.