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Risk Ahoy: Maersk, Daewoo Build the World's Biggest Boat

A brand-new behemoth prowls the seas. It’s the largest ship ever built and the most gigantic risk Maersk has ever taken

Behind this week’s cover
Photograph by John Francis Peters for Bloomberg Businessweek
Every weekday morning in Okpo, a former fishing village near the heel of the Korean Peninsula, the streets fill with men and women—on bicycles, motorcycles, scooters, and on foot—in the matching gray jackets of Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering. The commuters stream down the hill from the residential neighborhoods toward the harbor. They pass the small marina strewn with bits of netting and plastic patio furniture, where a few trawlers are tied up, and the pier where a replica of a famed 15th century armored Korean warship floats. Just beyond the harbor, some workers split off into a complex of DSME office towers. The rest continue on to the gates of the shipyard. There, after forming up with their teams for calisthenics, they get to work.

Geoje Island, where Okpo is situated, is the global capital of shipbuilding. On the other side of the island is the Samsung Heavy Industries yard. Up the coast is Ulsan, home of Hyundai Heavy Industries, the world’s largest shipmaker. DSME, formerly part of the Daewoo conglomerate, is No. 2. These facilities produce supertankers that carry millions of barrels of crude, and natural gas carriers with insulated tanks that hold hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of liquefied methane. They make $600 million drill ships, whose rotating azimuth thrusters can keep them hovering in place, hummingbird-like, in rough seas while boring exploratory wells in the ocean floor 6 miles below. To transport autos, the yards produce roll-on/roll-off ships; to transport ore, grain, or coal, they produce bulk carriers with 400,000-metric-ton capacities. For just about everything else, they make container ships.