The Grey Chronicles


The Unsinkable Steel Ship

RMS Titanic

RMS Titanic

Ninety-seven years ago today, a steel ship sailed its maiden voyage from Holland to New York. It was an Olympic-class passenger liner owned by the White Star Line and built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, United Kingdom. It sank after scraping an iceberg that left 1,523 dead in the frigid winter waters. The ship after almost a century have become a legend. It was the biggest steel luxury passenger ship of its time. Its name was Titanic.

Although the plan was grand, the name was elegant, and the design was superior, Titanic sank. At first, the blame was directed toward the ship’s crew. Rediscovered at the bottom of the sea by Jean-Louis Michel and Robert Ballard on 01 September 1985, after it was salvaged, Titanic was ultimately found to be made of inferior steel. Scientists proved inferior steel is no match to a formidable iceberg.

Thirty-five years ago, another entity was created from various steel companies. For 25 years that entity was the pride of the Philippines. Although not a ship, it sank in 2000 leaving 1,353 employees out of work. Its name was National Steel Corporation.

For 20 years, NSC employed talented engineers and professionals with rates beyond the highest in the country. The families of these grey-shirt-jacked employees afforded sustainable and comfortable living standards. Even the immediate community thrived along with its successes. A former President even likened NSC with a sailing ship cautioning that if it sinks, everybody will sink with it.

The owners of the privatized NSC primarily blamed its closure as the effect of the 1997-98 Asian Financial Crises. While some ascribed it on financial mismanagement, others speculated on its hasty privatization, whereby the Philippine government chose an inferior bidder in terms of technological know-how.

This writer, restricted by certain university limitations thus excluded the financial aspect of that era, proposed that the closure of NSC was caused by the collusion of several external factors, such as the onslaught of cheap steel imports and the cyclical movement of global steel prices, vis-à-vis fortuitous events in the 1990s. These prominent events were the Philippine trade liberalization, the Asian Financial Crises in 1997-1998 and the global slowdown of steel demand. Albeit a succession of promising internal factors: high mill-utilization and production rates, soaring material and prime yields, plus diminutive customer complaints for its finished products, NSC was threatened with liquidation in 1999, then officially closed on 07 May 2000.

Most senior management personalities have expressed great sadness over the demise of NSC. Many of them built NSC from the ground up, nurtured it like their own child, and saw its growth to towering heights. Although some went back during its privatized era, their experiences were unlike before that they opted for earlier retirement. Many joined the first-wave of NSC diaspora.

Four years ago, an international corporation took over the steel assets of NSC. Initially, with grand designs and plans, its recurring mantra: money is no object or smooth sailing ahead. Its name: Global Steelworks International, Inc. [GSII], the precursor of Global Steel Philippines (SPV-AMC), Inc. [GSPI].

On its first year, its labor force, most recruited from the privatized NSC, were employed with salaries circa 1999 but the Human Resource head clarified that although initial hiring rates were low then, the bright future of the company guarantees that these will be increased appropriately to prevailing competitive, internationally comparable, standards. Furthermore, it also introduced several management technologies which was claimed to have never been seen in these shores.

On its second year, many employees took a leap of faith and opted for greener pasture joining others in a second wave of NSC employees’ brain-drain.

On its third year, after a barrage of “shady activities”, as daily newspapers reported, it even announced constructing the first-ever blast furnace in the Philippines. These anomalies were soon forgotten, while some resolved silently.

For four years, it operated intermittently. Unfortunately, the plans continued to remain as plans. Its titanic dreams are still distant dreams. During the recent global economic crises, which most economist estimated to have started June 2007, it closed its gates on 04 December last year, leaving about 1,000 local employees under-employed.

In the privatized NSC, the 1997-98 Asian Financial Crises was like its own iceberg. Is the current global financial crises the mythical iceberg of the current NSC’s reincarnation? Should we jump out to the vast frigid global seas and brave out the strong economic tides or should we patch the various gaping holes to keep it afloat?


Image of sunken Titanic courtesy of National Geographic Channel (2004).

Disclaimer: The posts on this site does not necessarily represent any organization’s positions, strategies or opinions; and unless otherwise expressly stated, are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Philippines License.


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