In an amazing New World manufacturing coup, China has delivered 170 factory ships just outside the territorial waters of the United States. These are not fish factories, but fully functional floating industrial enterprises, with their own power, workforce quarters, clinics, broadband communications and regular supplies of raw materials.
Now you can order any Chinese commodity you need, and rest assured that it will be manufactured overnight, just 220 miles offshore, and delivered the very next morning.
As large as aircraft carriers or oil rigs, these floating cities have been purpose-built for mass consumer goods manufacturing. Some even have runways for freighter planes to land on their huge upper decks.
In typical sweatshop style, entire families of shift workers remorselessly churn out the goods for the eager American consumer public, a mere stone’s throw from the major markets of New York, Washington, Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
“We have cut down our delivery times significantly,” said secretary general of Maritime Manufacturing John Chen with an inscrutable smile, “and shopping directly at the factory ships is tax-free.”
The future of American manufacturing looks bleak indeed, but then, most consumer products already say ‘Made in China’. That hasn’t changed, China just got a whole lot closer.
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
China is the powerhouse of the manufacturing world. What if China could relocate masses of its workforce to a near proximity of its major market – the United States? This is not a fantasy, but a current probable scenario! Huge factory ships can be moored offshore, in international waters, ready to deliver the goods.
2007: Big ships in production
In April China starts building a huge cargo carrier, over 330 metres in length. This is the first in a series of large ships over 300,000 tons planned by the state shipbuilding company.
The hull for a 300,000 ton Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) vessel, the biggest and the most advanced FPSO in the Chinese shipbuilding industry, is delivered to Shanghai Waigaoqiao shipyard, thus opening up a new chapter for Chinese offshore engineering. 300,000 ton is so far the highest FPSO manufacture capability in the world, destined for the oil industry.
2008: Logistics constraints
As China sees an ever increasing demand for its cheaply manufactured goods in the west, so too it suffers from being so far from its markets. Language is one barrier, but physical distance and time to market – for the actual products – is hampering growth.
A solution is in sight. In a stroke of genius, if you can’t bring the customers closer to the factories, take the factories closer to the customers! Combining their expertise in big ships, offshore drilling platforms and a multitude of skilled workers, China’s shipping mandarins start an ambitious project, to build factory ships that can ‘park’ near US and European markets, delivering customized products for the just-in-time logistic supply chain.
2009: Converting carriers
Rather than build huge barge-like structures, which are also planned for the future, China’s state shipbuilder sees the low-hanging fruit – convert large cargo carriers with steel super structures capable of housing literally thousands of workers in a floating production facility – a self-propelled factory that can be sent to markets that need it.
2010: China on your doorstep
Mobility just got a whole new meaning. Now you can go to China just by hopping aboard a shoreline cruiser and spend the day at the nearest factory shops, or is that ships? Just beyond the Coast Guard jurisdiction, these hulks are veritable floating cities, with a complete infrastructure and self-contained trading capability.
The workers aboard these jumbo junks seem happy enough. They have escaped the winter storms of China and earn US dollars for their families back home. American consumers are thrilled, but there is discontent among the working classes. Unionists are calling for political action, but short of a blockade, what can the politicians do? Besides, America long ago gave up the crown as the biggest industrial nation.