Āgēnnà Shipyard 阿根納造船廠 is among the most popular abandoned places in northern Taiwan. It is located in the historic port city of Keelung 基隆 across the narrow Bāchǐmén Channel 八尺門海峽 from Hépíng Island 和平島, site of the first Spanish settlement in Taiwan, and just around the corner from the equally photogenic Zhèngbīn Harbour 正濱漁港. The shipyard opened in 1967 but was only in business until the 1980s. After many years of neglect the skeletal ruins of the shipyard aroused renewed interest in 2016 when the current leaseholder attempted to demolish the structure. An immediate public outcry prompted the government to designate the shipyard a heritage property, and the cultural bureau is now formulating plans to develop the area into a tourist attraction of some kind. In the meantime, the crumbling ruins of the former shipyard attract hundreds or even thousands of daily visitors.
The shipyard is only the most recent of several industrial facilities on this site. Although the details are lost in the mists of time, there is some indication this shoreline was developed as far back as the late Qing dynasty era for the transshipment of coal from the very first large-scale coal mines in Taiwan1. Based on archival maps it is certain that a railway terminus and port facilities existed here by 1920, but the only remaining trace of those developments would be in some landscaping along the former railway line.
In the late 1930s the site was completely redeveloped by the Nippon Mining Company 日本礦業株式會社 to ship vast quantities of mineral ore from the mines of Jinguashi to Niúchóugǎng 牛稠港 in the port of Keelung and onward to Japan 日本 for further processing2. In 1936 the Jīnguāshí Line 金瓜石線 entered into service. This narrow gauge railway line3 ran along the northeastern shoreline for approximately 12.3 kilometers from Shuǐnǎndòng Station 水湳洞車站, where gold and copper ore was loaded, to Bāchǐmén Station 八尺門車站, where an ore dock4 facilitated the loading of barges that would then cross the harbour.
In the chaos and disorganization that followed the war the site changed hands several times, eventually coming under the ownership of the Taiwan Metals Mining Company 臺灣金屬鑛業股份有限公司 (informally: Táijīn Company 台金公司) in 1955. Operations continued, but the mines of Jinguashi were becoming increasingly depleted, and with an on-site smelter (the infamous Thirteen Levels 十三層), there was probably much less of a need to transport large quantities of ore to Keelung. The railway line fell into disuse by 1962 and the entire section from Bachimen to Bādǒuzi 八斗子 was permanently abolished5.
A few short years later the land was leased to the Argonaut Corporation6, allegedly the Taiwanese subsidiary of Chris-Craft Industries, a rapidly-expanding American conglomerate that made its name in the boat-building business. Many American boatbuilders subcontracted to Taiwanese shipyards in the 1960s7, taking advantage of cheap labour and local expertise to produce high-quality boats at a fraction of the cost. This particular shipyard specialized in producing fiberglass hulled ships like the Chris-Craft Coho, but it seems likely that ships of other brands were also produced here at some point. Chris-Clark underwent restructuring at the beginning of the 1980s and its boating division was sold off—likely leading to a drastic decrease in orders to this shipyard, which may have been the catalyst for its closure.
One additional mystery remains: was the original ore dock adapted for use as a shipyard or was it demolished to make room for the current structure? No sources I’ve consulted have a conclusive answer to this question. The uniformity of the construction style suggests that the ore dock was either adapted or dismantled—otherwise it would seem to have been constructed in two different phases—but we’ll just have to wait for more information from the cultural bureau to puzzle this one out.
The shipyard was derelict by the time the landowner, Taijin Company, went bankrupt in the late 1980s. Many of Taijin’s assets were sold off to pay creditors but not this parcel of land. In 1991 the remains of Taijin were merged into the Taiwan Sugar Company 台糖公司, the current owner of the site. They leased the land to a variety of businesses over the years, most recently granting a 20-year lease to Ānuòmǎ Industrial Company 阿諾瑪實業公司 in 2008. It was this company that began demolishing the iconic shipyard in February 2016, prompting widespread media attention, condemnation by the mayor on social media, and an intervention by city officials threatening hefty fines for failing to secure a construction permit8. Heritage status was granted in August of that year, but the damage from the aborted demolition effort is plainly visible.
Take a short stroll to the east of the shipyard and you’ll find the Keelung City Indigenous Cultural Hall 基隆市原住民文化會館, a community center and exhibition hall established in 20059. The open space next to the hall was likely the site of the original Bachimen Station. Just beyond the hall one will find the original Bachimen Narrow Gauge Railway Tunnel 八尺門五分車隧道10 built by the Nippon Mining Company in 1936. It was also declared a heritage property when the shipyard earned its status in 2016. In an interesting twist, the far side of the tunnel is blocked by someone’s house, an illegal building sure to be cleared whenever the area is redeveloped.
From what I’ve read the popularity of the Agenna Shipyard surged in 2014 with the release of a video game trailer featuring American actor Chris Evans. Since then it has become a popular tourist destination for all kinds of people interested in having their picture taken in the ruins. Naturally this demographic includes a great many internet beauties (wǎngměi 網美) and hipster youth (wénqīng 文青)—have a glance at this hashtag on Instagram and you’ll see exactly what I mean—but regular tour groups, families, and even the elderly stop here for photos. I’ve visited the site several times now and I’m always impressed to see aunties and uncles clambering up jagged concrete rubble to take a cool photo to show their friends!
Despite its popularity and ease of access the ruins of the Agenna Shipyard are quite hazardous. The underlying structure is unstable in many places, there are no barriers to prevent a possibly lethal fall, and rusty metal protrusions can be found all over the place. I’ve personally seen people injure themselves in pursuit of a daring photograph at this shipyard. I strongly recommend exercising appropriate precautions should you visit.
Finally, I have two Chinese language blogs to recommend for more photos and information: Just A Balcony and Apex Cheng. Enter the Chinese name into Google and you’ll find literally hundreds of other blogs about the shipyard. Somewhat surprisingly, my post appears to be among the first full-length articles about the shipyard in English. Perhaps more will follow.
- Coal mining was forbidden by imperial edict until the 1870s. Under pressure from the British to develop Keelung into a coaling station the provincial authorities allowed the establishment of coal mines in Badouzi, slightly more than 3 kilometers to the east. It is possible that a light railway line 輕便線 was constructed from the mines to transport coal by handcar or other means prior to the Japanese invasion. I haven’t seen any confirmation of this hypothesis but it is mentioned in several blogs about the site (e.g. this one). ↩
- There’s a very good chance much (or all) of the ore from Jinguashi was shipped to the Saganoseki Smelter in Kyushu, a facility owned by the Japan Mining Company at that time. This impressive complex also had a narrow gauge railway line, presumably for transporting ore offloaded at the nearby port. ↩
- This railway line was also known as the Shuǐbā Railway 水八鐵道, a name formed from the first characters of the terminal stations. As with the sugar and forest railway networks this line also had a 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) gauge. ↩
- If this had a formal name it might have been the Bachimen Ore Dock 八尺門礦砂裝船工廠. Bachimen, by the way, literally means “Eight-Foot Gate”, alluding to the narrowness of the channel between Heping Island and the Taiwanese mainland. The “foot” is a Taiwanese foot, however, making this span approximately 2.5 meters, about 20 times narrower than it is in reality. ↩
- The section of the Jinguashi Line east of Badouzi was widened and repurposed to provision the Shen’ao Power Plant 深澳發電廠 with coal. This became the Shen’ao Line 深澳線, active from 1967 to 2007, and recently redeveloped for tourism purposes. ↩
- Argonaut is almost certainly the source of the Chinese name, although some Taiwanese observe that it also sounds a lot like Algonac, Michigan, where Chris-Craft was founded. Many thanks to Tobias of Only Forward for making the connection and opening up a new line of research. ↩
- Taiwan Today has a good article about the state of the Taiwanese boatbuilding industry in the 1980s. Apparently Taiwan was the top exporter of recreational boats to the United States in those days. For a deeper dive I recommend looking up Robert Perry, a famous American boat designer who spent many years working with Taiwanese shipyards. ↩
- Anuoma were well within their rights to demolish the shipyard—and Taisugar had also approved—but the site had been under consideration for protection since at least 2007. I’m guessing there might have been some interest in avoiding the embarrassment of seeing one of the city’s most visible industrial ruins disappear after years of inaction. ↩
- Keelung is home to several thousand Taiwanese indigenous people, primarily Amis people 阿美族 who migrated here from East Taiwan in the 1950s to work in the burgeoning fishing and mining industries. The indigenous Taiwanese who greeted the Spanish when they landed here in the 1600s were the Ketalagan people 凱達格蘭族, but they were absorbed into the general population long ago. Incidentally, the name Keelung is derived from Ketalagan by way of Hokkien (Ke-lâng), and it originally referred only to what is now Heping Island. ↩
- The origins of the term Wǔfēn Train 五分車, which refers to the small engines that plied Taiwan’s extensive narrow gauge railways, seems shrouded in mystery. This railfan suggests the term did not come into use until after the expulsion of the Japanese, and nor does it derive from the narrow gauge railway spanning half that of the international standard. ↩