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EDITORIAL AUGUST 2009
Reading through a feature on Malaysia's maritime industry in the August issue
of our sister magazine SHIPS and SHIPPING, I was struck by the amazing
contrast with the approach of neighbouring Australia.
The two countries are similar in terms of both population and their considerable
reliance on the export of bulk commodities. The exports of both are at least 95 per cent
That is about where their similarities begin and end. In their approaches to matters
maritime it is hard to imagine that two countries could be more different.
For the last two decades or more Malaysia's governments have very actively
encouraged and promoted their country's maritime activity. During the same period
Australia's governments have pretty much done the opposite. They have, at best,
practiced neglect. Mostly, though, they have been actively destructive.
Australia, in fact, has over the last thirty years only enjoyed the benefit of one
positive Transport (read shipping) minister. He was the well known and revered Peter
"Ships of Shame" Morris. Unfortunately, he was not there long enough and his
successors were simply not interested.
By contrast Malaysia has enjoyed a succession of positive shipping ministers. Indeed,
at least two of its prime ministers have encouraged its maritime development.
Malaysia has inspired and nurtured any number of home grown ship owners who
have enthusiastically developed significant fleets that are now prominent on the world
stage. Twenty-five years ago its fleet of ocean going, internationally trading cargo ships
numbered abut 100. Now there are well over 300 of them.
Over the same period Australia's fleet of around 125 such ships has dwindled to
about 25 vessels at last count. Australian ship owners have mostly been very reluctant.
They were mainly either governments or large mining companies which only owned
and operated ships because they had no choice.
Much the same situation applies in ship building. Apart from its naval ship builders
and a handful of world leading aluminium builders, Australian yards produce nothing
significant for either local or foreign owners. Other than warships, Australia now builds
no steel ships.
Malaysia, on the other hand, by a policy of largely benign neglect, has encouraged
the development of a significant steel ship building industry. While they are still mostly
less than 5,000DWT, Malaysia's shipyards now churn out ever increasing numbers of
ever improving OSVs, tugs, barges and work boats.
Australia's governments are busily slaughtering its fishing industry but Malaysia's,
conversely, are helping its fishing industry to develop.
Even in maritime education, Australia which once spent heavily on it, is starting to
lag behind. Malaysia, meanwhile, is pushing vigorously ahead with its maritime
The contrast between the two neighbours is stark. I strongly suspect that Australia
will come to regret its "sea blindness". I am certain that the people of Malaysia are
already benefitting and will continue to benefit from its governments' enthusiasm for
A tale of two countries
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