Tsunami-hit Miyagi shipbuilder launches first vessel since disaster

JIJI

Yamanishi Corp., a shipbuilder in Miyagi Prefecture, held a launch ceremony Wednesday for its first vessel built since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Twenty months after the devastating disasters, the ceremony marked a restart for the Ishinomaki-based company, which has long been a driver of the port city’s economy.

President Hidehiko Maeda, 63, almost gave up on the company’s future. The tsunami destroyed a vessel that was almost completed and left its shipyard in ruins.

Once Maeda confirmed all his employees were safe, however, he vowed to himself he would rebuild the business.

The disasters cost the company around ¥12 billion. With only ¥1.5 billion in subsidies from the government, the company managed to stay afloat with cooperation from shipbuilders in other parts of Japan, including firms in Shizuoka, Hyogo and Hiroshima prefectures.

Yamanishi was able to draw up a rehabilitation plan in February, under the government-backed Enterprise Turnaround Initiative Corp. of Japan. The plan included a debt waiver of some ¥7.9 billion, covering 99 percent of the company’s total debts.

But the plan also required Yamanishi to nearly halve its production to two vessels a year. The company was also asked to cut its workforce by 25 percent from the roughly 200 people it employed before the March 11 disasters.

Maeda was forced to make heart-rending decisions. He knew there would be no jobs in the disaster-ravaged town for the people he laid off, but he asked long-time employees to make way for younger people.

Wednesday’s ceremony celebrated the launch of a 695-ton training vessel built for fisheries high schools in Shimane Prefecture. After a big decorated ball was broken to mark the event, people at the port applauded as the ship was silently set afloat.

The ship is painted blue, green and orange, the colors used in the flags of the hardest-hit prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, with a stripe in brown, the color of the Shimane Prefecture flag.

The design was proposed by high school students from Shimane to commemorate the launch of Yamanishi’s first ship.