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Monday, 2 September, 2002, 14:33 GMT 15:33 UK
German steel works finds Chinese home
Workers at Dortmund steel works
The steel work will be reassembled in Shanghai

More than 600 Chinese workers are in the German town of Dortmund to dismantle a huge disused steel works to be transferred to China for reconstruction.

Bit by bit they are taking down the 250,000-ton steel mill so that it can be transported to China and re-built at a site north of Shanghai.


It is a bit sad seeing all these parts going away. But the people here, the workers and the engineers, feel it's better to have the plant in China working than for it to be scrapped

Hans Plueck, Thyssen Krupp
Like pieces of a giant jigsaw, the parts are meticulously marked and coded, ready to be re-assembled 9,000 kilometres (6,000 miles) away.

The extraordinary project is part of China's efforts to meet demand for steel from the country's booming construction industry.

The Dortmund plant was closed last spring after its owners, Thyssen Krupp, decided it was unprofitable.

Astonishment

They were astonished when the Chinese offered to buy it, but will not reveal how much for.

Despite their obvious satisfaction, publicly they are sensitive about the loss of thousands of German steel jobs.

Molten steel
There is an enormous demand for steel in China

"It's the biggest such deal we've ever been involved in, and we were lucky we could get it," said Hans Plueck, Thyssen project co-ordinator.

"It is a bit sad seeing all these parts going away. But the people here, the workers and the engineers, feel it's better to have the plant in China working than for it to be scrapped."

Big saving

In a former steelworks washroom, a Chinese cook stirs a giant wok. This is the canteen, where the 600 Chinese eat. They sleep in an office block nearby.

During their stints of up to six months, the workers are paid the German industry minimum wage, a significant sum in China. However, they must wait for the full amount until they return home.

Chinese worker in Dortmund
The Chinese workers are cheap by German standards

"The Germans are very friendly," said one worker. He especially likes watching German football.

"I'm missing my family," said another. "But the money I've saved is worth it."

Low labour costs mean the Chinese can run the plant profitably and, unlike in Europe, there is booming demand for steel in China.

"We need the extra steel for our construction industry," says Honglin Zhao, vice-president of Shagang, the company which bought the steel mill.

"In our big cities now, so many families want their own homes. Then they want stainless steel cookers and other appliances."

Shagang calculates that by buying the plant it is saving at least one third of the cost of building a new steel mill.

In all, the tens of thousands of parts are expected to fill around 50 container ships.

One blast furnace has already left Germany, and is expected to be producing steel in China in just over 12 months' time.

Dortmund meanwhile plans to re-develop the empty site around a boating lake, aptly named Lake Phoenix.

See also:

27 Mar 02 | Business
11 Jul 01 | Business
06 Mar 02 | Business
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