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Same City, Two Different Stories in the Ship Building Industry
Before the demise of communism, the old shipyard employed 5,000 people. Now, it is on the verge of collapse: the last salaries were paid in May, and the electric power was cut around that time too. The skills for ship building, however, are alive.
The new company which now makes luxury yachts was founded in 1998 by Karel Boersma, a Dutch. Stentor Maritime grew steadily in size, having sold to date some 70 luxury boats. "We build an average of seven boats a year," explains Stefan Negoita, the Romanian administrator of the company. "These boats are delicate things; they demand a lot of skilled work and no mistakes. Our clients are extremely demanding, and start visiting the shipyard while the boat is being built. For instance, to check the quality of the paint coat they test if they can read the newspaper in the light reflected by it," explains Negoita.
When asked about the structure of the company, he says that people are more like family than keeping to their official positions. Even the owner, when he visits the shipyard, workers along his employees, Negoita said. The company has its clientsâ base in Western Europe, and it will be able to take new orders only in 2008; until then, it is going to work at full capacity for the existing orders.
The company cannot expand, Negoita explains, because it has no workers pool from which to select new employees, in spite of the high unemployment figures in the city.
"I may employ responsible and capable people only, because the standards of performance on the job are very high. No youngster knocks at our door, showing interest that he wants to learn the profession, and the high-schools in Oltenita do not train children in ship building anymore," goes on Negoita. However, Stentor Maritime has the potential for growth and becoming the biggest ship builder in the region, says Negoita, and hopes facts will prove him right. Boersma did a little bit of research before choosing Oltenita as location for his company. He checked all shipyards along the Romanian bank of the Danube, and finally settled for this city because it is located one hour driving distance from capital Bucharest and also because the locals had built former dictatorâs Nicolae Ceausescu luxury boats. This time the old shipyard, called Navol, dominates the landscape but also sent its employees to collect unemployment benefits.
The former greatness of the company is still shown in the name of the only theatre hall in the city, called Navol, or the one of the only sports track and stadium, also called Navol, or in the name of the soccer team, called Navol too. But its former glory does not seem to be able to rescue the present. Costinel Milescu, the mayor of Oltenita, is worried by the lack of action of Navolâs management - which also refused to meet the press -, reminding that this is the only Romanian shipyard on the Danube River which is not building a thing. "The companyâs debts to the City Hall alone stay at 10 billion lei saround 280,000 eurost and the management refuses any contact. Last year they got a lifeline, when it was politically decided to have a 100 billion lei debt to state coffers whipped out clean. But they did not use that opportunity to bounce back," concluded Milescu.
Translated By Anca Paduraru