It is great that with the appointment of Delft mayor and former Minister of Education Marja van Bijsterveldt as envoy for the maritime manufacturing industry the Dutch government has put the sector on the political agenda. However, the outcomes of the sector agenda she is to draw up and its effects on the maritime manufacturing industry are still very much uncertain.

In every issue of SWZ|Maritime, SWZ|Maritime’s editor-in-chief Antoon Oosting writes an opinion piece under the heading “Markets” about the maritime industry or a particular sector within it. In the September 2023 issue, he discusses how the Dutch government should take a much more active role in supporting the maritime manufacturing industry as a (launching) customer.

There is still quite a gap to overcome between the government bodies that have to start awarding contracts such as the Royal Netherlands Navy and Rijkswaterstaat on the one hand and the shipbuilders and their suppliers on the other.

A few examples of that gap between government and industry surfaced during a working visit by Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy Micky Adriaansens (VVD) and Marja van Bijsterveldt on Monday 4 September to Holland Shipyards in Hardinxveld. This yard has built two series of modern, until last year one of five, fully electric ferries for Amsterdam’s municipal transport company GVB. But Holland Shipyards passed up the tender for a third series of ferries. This will not have been because the experience with the two previous orders was so favourable.

The yard is now building two electric ferries for Riveer, the ferry company that operates six routes from Gorinchem. A first tender for the construction of two new ferries did not yield any bids because the budget was too small. In a second round, Holland Schipyards won the contract for two all-electric ferries at a price and conditions they could do it for.

When bidding for a tender, a shipyard, like other companies for that matter, must always ensure that the risks do not become too great and a company does not lose out and preferably makes some profit.

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Passing off all risks

A government does not know this concern; on the contrary, for many politicians profit is even a dirty word. As a result, governments pass off the risks to shipbuilders as much as possible, not only of new construction, but also of maintenance and repairs after delivery due to wear and tear or unforeseen calamities, where a shipyard could never bear that risk on its own.

It is easy when a government shifts all the risks to business, but a government never goes bankrupt, while a business can with all the loss of property, invested capital and jobs.

Another well-known example of an unsuccessful tender is that of the Government Shipping Company (the Rijksrederij, consisting of Rijkswaterstaat, Coast Guard, and Customs) for three new buoying vessels (so-called MPV-30 vessels). It can be read on the site of the Scheepvaartkrant that this was partly due to changes added to the original design, which in turn had greater consequences than expected.

The consequences have to do with sightlines and draught. Due to additions to the design, the ships turned out to be deeper than desired. This has consequences for deployability, the amount of cargo that can be carried and the location of the sleeping quarters, among other things. What is certain in any case is that delivery of the ships has been delayed. In parallel with the investigation into possible solutions to the “defects”, the liability issue is also being sorted out.

How the government seeks to pass off the risks of a contract to the industry (by Hans de Wilde, as published in SWZ|Maritime).
How the government seeks to pass off the risks of a contract to the industry (by Hans de Wilde, as published in SWZ|Maritime).

Taking a pause

Rijkswaterstaat eventually accepted the three ships built by the Frisian shipyard Bijlsma, but the consequences for Dutch shipbuilding as a whole were not minor. Rijkswaterstaat then decided to take a pause with its fleet renewal programme.
Replacements that were in preparation, but not yet awarded, would first be critically examined before starting the tendering process. The reasons for this were previous experiences with rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs), the experiences with the three MPV-30 vessels, as well as the fact that the ADR’s investigation into the problems with RHIBs was still pending.

Since then, it has thus been waiting for new tenders from the Government Shipping Company, just at a time when Dutch shipyards could really use new orders from their own government. In the Maritime Master Plan, the maritime manufacturing sector actually pinned its hopes on the government for orders for new, sustainable – because emission-free – ships. But so far, the Government Shipping Company and shipbuilders have not been able to find each other.

Foreign success

Not that these kinds of green, sustainable ships cannot already be built in the Netherlands. During Minister Adriaansens’ working visit, the seventh copy of a series of electric ferries for a German order from Kiel is lying at the quay of Holland Shipyards. In addition, the shipyard has won the order of the Swedish capital Stockholm for a whole series of electric ferries. Furthermore, ferries and a research vessel were delivered to Norwegian clients.

And not because Scandinavian clients would be less fussy or demanding than Dutch governments, rather the opposite, but because the Germans, Norwegians and Swedes can do what fails in the Netherlands. Whose fault could that be? According to Holland Shipyards director Marco Hoogendoorn, the fact that, despite the Norwegians’ preference to build as much as possible in-house, an outsider manages to gain access to their tenders is partly due to the transparency of the tendering process.

Also read: ‘It took a war to put Dutch shipbuilding back on the agenda’

Standard shipbuilding contract

Norway, for instance, has a standardised shipbuilding contract for government tenders. ‘This also allows for more transparency in negotiations,’ Hoogendoorn says. In Sweden, the government took on part of the risk of certifying the power supply for electric ferries. Many such projects involve activities that have never been done before and therefore need to be certified. Something with which, for example, the Rijksrederij/Rijkswaterstaat could also help Dutch shipbuilders, Hoogendoorn believes.

Meanwhile, Holland Shipyards has a solid order book with will keep the 100 or so permanent employees and just as many temporary workers busy for the time being. Both the permanent employees and the temporary workers come from the region, with many small and medium-sized companies also benefiting from the work Holland Shipyards manages to land. The yard has built up a solid reputation as a shipbuilder that dares to stick its neck out and innovate.

Working visit

It was for this reason that Holland Shipyards was asked to give a presentation and tour of its shipyard in Hardinxveld, one of Holland Shipyards’ three, and to show its innovative power to the Minister. Accompanied by envoy maritime manufacturing industry Van Bijsterveldt, the minister paid this working visit as part of the drafting of the sector agenda for the maritime manufacturing industry. This sector agenda is to be presented to the government on 26 October.

Holland Shipyards has developed into a shipbuilder, particularly over the past decade, that keeps surprising the market with innovative projects, starting in 2014 with the EDDY tug. The letters EDDY stand for “Efficiency Double-ended DYnamic” and the vessel can therefore sail forward as easily as backwards – even the wheelhouse is equipped to that end. At the time, this innovative tug was one of the first to have diesel-direct/diesel hybrid propulsion. Early last year, the yard presented an all-electric version.

Holland Shipyards is often the first with projects, such as the first diesel-electric tug, the first all-electric ferry in the Netherlands and now the first hydrogen-powered inland navigation vessel. Besides many innovative one-off newbuildings and conversion projects, the yard has been particularly successful in recent years with all-electric ferries. With these ferries, Holland Shipyards is responding to the energy transition and sustainability of shipping traffic as desired by governments.

Also read: Shipping decarbonises, but will Rotterdam industry survive?

Autonomous sailing

Holland Shipyards’ latest project is a fully electric, autonomously sailing ferry for crossing the River Seine in the French capital Paris. This is a plastic, 3D-printed hull with an aluminium and glass superstructure for up to twelve passengers. Recycled materials have been used for the hull, which can also be reused in the future. Paris wants to present itself as a “green” city with environmentally friendly, zero-emission public transport during next year’s Olympics.

To 3D print the ferry, Holland Shipyards partnered with Royal Roos and 10XL, regional suppliers that developed 3D printing for the maritime sector. ‘A very exciting, but above all fascinating project,’ states Marco Hoogendoorn.

Picture (top): The 3D printed ferry under construction at Holland Shipyards (by Gerrit J. de Boer/SWZ|Maritime).

Also read: Northern Dutch shipyards compete for major fleet replacement