President-elect wants South Korea to become maritime power 

A regional shipping hub.

South Korean president-elect Yoon Seok-youl, who will be inaugurated in May, has directed his transition team to draft key policies for the maritime industry.  Yoon has made election promises to promote shipping and shipbuilding industries and to elevate the country to a “maritime power”.

To do so, Yoon said it is necessary to privatize big companies, adopt emerging technologies and bring structural change to the relevant ministries.  On January 15 in his “New Maritime Power Vision Declaration Ceremony” held in Busan, Yoon said that even though the country is in an “era of maritime prosperity”, with shipping companies handling over 95 percent of transported goods, the maritime industry is still experiencing many difficulties vis-a-vis “global competitors”. 

Additionally, regarding the fishing industry, Yoon believed that as the fish stock becomes increasingly scarce and fishing becomes more high risk, the job is less attractive as it brings in an unstable income.  He proposed a “technical renovation” as a solution by adopting emerging technologies like artificial intelligence. 

“We need to build smarter, digitalized infrastructure for the fishing industry. It’s also necessary to build smart aquaculture technologies and train field professionals,” he said. 

Yoon also promised to build a stronger food security management system through measures like using a traceability system and certifications for safe fish products. He added that radioactivity tests will be conducted at wholesale markets and that there will be inspection of machinery and equipment for fishery companies.

For other areas, Yoon prefers continuity with the current administration, for example, self-driving vessels, marine business clusters at port areas, and the “Excellent Shipowner Certification System” to provide benefits like the prime rate at the Export-Import Bank of Korea, tax credits, and additional points when they are applying for a government-led project. 

Privatizing maritime conglomerates

The president-elect said that restructuring the conglomerates is essential to increase the maritime industry’s competitiveness.

After the European Union put a stop to the merger of Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering, one of the largest shipbuilding companies in the country and partly owned by the government through the Korea Development Bank (KDB), and Hyundai Heavy Industries, Yoon said he will push for another company to take over Daewoo, which is under financial difficulty with a large deficit.

The European Union stated that the proposed merger “would have created a dominant position by the newly merged company and reduced competition in the worldwide market for the construction of large liquefied gas carriers”.

Recently, Yoon’s transition team criticized President Moon Jae-in for appointing Park Doo-sun as the president and CEO of DSME. The team said at a press briefing held on March 31 that Park is a friend to the brother of Moon, and added that it is “common sense” for the government to pick a new leader who can cooperate with the next administration.

The Blue House denied cronyism and said that the CEO position is for any professional “who can help the debt-ridden shipbuilder speedily normalized its operations amid a revival of the shipbuilding industry”. 

HMM, a shipping company whose biggest shareholder is KDB, is also expected to be sold during Yoon’s tenure.

It is expected that Yoon favors a smaller government and that he may close or merge certain agencies.

Photo credit: Igor Grochev / Shutterstock.com

Sunny Um

Sunny Um

Sunny, our South Korea correspondent working out of Seoul, is a journalist with a passion for community journalism and an interest in economics and politics.

The best maritime news and insights delivered to you.

Here's what you can expect from us:

  • News & key insights covering the maritime industry
  • Expert analysis and opinions on maritime corruption and more
  • Exclusive interviews