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Chinese inventor goes under to stay afloat

posted 6 Jun 2012, 08:14 by Mpelembe   [ updated 6 Jun 2012, 08:15 ]

After being laid off from his job as a textile factory worker, an enterprising inventor in China is staying afloat by building submarines for the fishing industry. The farming of sea cucumbers and other delicacies on the sea floor has traditionally required divers, but Zhang Wuyi says his subs present a viable and cost-effective alternative.

Sudden unemployment can put a person underwater financially, but a Chinese man has found an inventive solution to staying afloat - by building homemade submarines.
Thirty-seven-year-old Zhang Wuyi, from Wuhan of central China's Hubei Province, started making mini submarines in his workshop at a shipyard after he was laid off from his job in a textile machine factory years ago.

Working by himself when he first started, Zhang is now employing some 20 workers to turn flat raw steel and iron into subs, largely by manual work.

With walls made of wrought iron, the mini submarine is capable of diving to 50 meters and travelling at 20 kilometres per hour for ten hours. The ten-ton craft can seat two people and contains oxygen tanks, video cameras, a radar and positioning system.

Zhang developed an interest in submarines in 2009 and then taught himself to build one from information found on the internet and from shipbuilding experts at the shipyard.

He has now built three.

With fishing equipment designed to harvest plants and animals from the sea floor attached to the front of the craft, Zhang is targetting coastal sea-farming businesses as his main customers.

His first customer, sea cucumber farmer Cong Zhijie, told the China Daily newspaper that the machine helped him to catch 50 kilograms of sea cucumbers in 40 minutes.

Zhang says his invention has met market needs and he's confident his business will soon take off.

"The fishing submarine fills the gap for underwater farming machinery. There wasn't such a thing until I invented one. Lots of seafood including sea snails, shellfish, sea cucumbers and abalone can't been caught in the deep sea area and many sea resources are largely wasted. Dozens of overseas countries have consulted me or ordered fishing submarines from me. The market prospect is very bright," he said.

It takes up to a month to build a standard submarine six-meter long and two meters in circumference while Zhang's team can also customize submarines with different sizes or interior designs, catering to different customers' demands.

Zhang has invested some four million RMB (US$635,000) with half coming out of his own pocket and half raised by friends and investors.

The least expensive submarine costs 200,000 RMB (US$31,000).

However, even with a few orders under his belt, Zhang says he still encounts considerable financial difficulties without government support.

"As I am laid-off, I am keen on getting government's funds and loans for unemployed people. However, I couldn't get loans because I don't have my own property as a security. That means I am now faced with great financial difficulties. For one thing, I need operating fund to increase production, for another, it also takes a lot of money to go through all the formalities with relevant departments. So I am having a huge shortage of money," he said.

Zhang is now building a plant for large-scale submarine manufacturing as he looks forward to selling more products, although he is modest in his success.

"I don't have any expertise in building submarines, but I do have some general knowledge about the submarine. As far as I know, China has been making submarines for long enough, like one or two hundred years. The technologies applied to build submarine are very normal and standard. So I don't have any issues at technical level," he said.

Zhang says his priority now is to get financial support from local governments so his homemade business can flourish and keep his head above water.