The Dutch government and the maritime sector have agreed to get started immediately with active industrial policy. In 2024 and 2025, they will jointly invest EUR 60 million in innovative shipbuilding, with nuclear propulsion listed as one of five frontrunner projects. This follows from the Sector Agenda that was presented 26 October.

The Dutch maritime sector and government state that they are taking measures to preserve dry feet, accelerate the energy transition and ensure economic and military security. These measures are in the Sector Agenda presented by envoy Marja van Bijsterveldt in Rotterdam to ministers Micky Adriaansens (Economic Affairs and Climate) and Mark Harbers (Infrastructure and Water Management) and state secretary Christophe van der Maat (Defence).

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

Critical lower limit in sight

The Sector Agenda indicates how important shipbuilding is for the Netherlands, where the opportunities lie, how we strengthen the maritime sector again and prevent undesirable dependencies in areas such as safety. It appears that the critical lower limit is in sight.

Among other things, the Netherlands has insufficient competitive building capacity for naval vessels and specialised work ships, while this is badly needed for the country’s safety, vital infrastructure, water protection and energy transition. The government and the sector will therefore each allocate EUR 30 million over the next two years for technological and sustainable innovation.

Marja van Bijsterveldt (cabinet envoy): ‘Unjustly, our maritime manufacturing industry is considered a quiet asset. Along with other countries in Europe, we have lost an overwhelming share of our global market share for commercial marine vessels to Asia in a few decades. From 45 per cent in the 1980s to 4 per cent now measured in built ship volume. With vision and firm government support to companies, Asia and recently China in particular are taking over our industry step by step, also for more complex ships.’

She adds: ‘Building a ship in the Netherlands is now twenty to forty per cent more expensive than in Asia, according to shipowners. Frightening figures, which will eventually prove disastrous if we do not manage to turn the tide. The Netherlands depends on ships for our safety, dry feet, energy transition and prosperity. We can no longer afford the laissez-faire policies of recent decades.’

Five action lines from innovation, business climate to procurement

The sector and the government will work on 25 measures for 25 bottlenecks, bundled in five action lines. For instance, a formal instruction for the entire central government will state that national interests must be better taken into account when purchasing ships.

Government and industry will also work on improving financing and fiscal shipping arrangements. They will take stock of how attractively located shipyards can be better protected from the threat of housing development. The industry itself will work on addressing staff shortages.

Also read: Shipping outlook: Invest in people and nuclear back on the agenda

Five frontrunner projects for impetus

Following the agenda, the sector and the government are also jointly developing five frontrunner projects. These projects mean a major boost for the use of new technologies, working methods and earning models in the production, conversion and repair of ships. Examples of frontrunner projects are “The Shipyard of the Future” and “Nuclear Propulsion of Ships”.

With The Yard of the Future, construction costs are to be reduced by ten to fifteen per cent and construction made more sustainable through digitisation and robotisation. With “Nuclear Propulsion of Ships”, it explores how nuclear technology can be applied to make our shipping more sustainable and long-lasting at sea.

The Maritime Master Plan is also among the frontrunner projects. This plan to build up to forty sustainably sailing ships that run on LNG, methanol, hydrogen and self-capture CO2, for example, received EUR 210 million support from the National Growth Fund this year.

Improved sector cooperation

On average, the world fleet is now 22 years old, while a ship lasts about thirty years. Within seven years, a large replacement demand will be released. The Sector Agenda allows the industry to prepare for this.

In addition, the cabinet is setting up a so-called National Maritime Manufacturing Office modelled on the British National Shipbuilding Office. And the government has decided to appoint a long-term maritime manufacturing industry envoy as a successor to the temporary envoy Van Bijsterveldt. The Minister of Economic Affairs will appoint this person.

Also read: Relationship government and maritime industry leaves much to be desired

Keeping the industry in the Netherlands

‘Investing in a future innovative and clean economy, is necessary to keep the Netherlands liveable, prosperous, safe and competitive,’ states Minister Adriaansens. ‘We must first earn in order to distribute. The maritime manufacturing industry is a prime example of a sector that faces challenges in terms of both sustainability and protecting national security and remaining competitive. So we want to keep that industry here in the Netherlands, and not only that: we want to strengthen and innovate. That is why it is good that we now have an agenda including available funding that clearly sets out with actions how the sector and the government must work together to achieve this.’

Minister Harbers: ‘It is important that the Netherlands itself builds the ships needed for our safety. Think, for example, of the vessels of the Dutch Government Shipping Company, such as dredgers that ensure our rivers remain safe and navigable, or naval vessels. Or think of trailing suction hopper dredgers: they spray sand to protect the Netherlands from floods. We have a lot of knowledge and expertise in-house to build these complex ships. And we want to keep it that way. The Maritime Manufacturing Sector Agenda presented today presents actions to ensure this.’

‘The Dutch maritime manufacturing industry is essential for Defence. Not only because of their knowledge and skills, but for military safety. I am therefore pleased that the cooperation between the sector and the government is getting this extra boost. This will strengthen the ecosystem around the maritime industry, which is essential for European autonomy. This calls for the industry to unite better, including internationally, to get more out of the Royal Netherlands Navy’s newbuilding orders and outsourced maintenance together. Sitting still is not an option for any of the parties. Defence does not invest EUR 50 million a year in maritime innovation such as robotisation and sustainability for nothing,’ concludes State Secretary Van der Maat.

Also read: Holland Shipyards shows its innovative strength to Minister Adriaansens