In Depth: All Hands on Deck

Looking back, I have to conclude that it has been a turbulent year for the Dutch maritime industry. We’ve had both ups and tremendous downs.

In early December, I had the honour to receive the first copy of the Maritime Monitor 2016 from our coordinating maritime Minister, Melanie Schultz van Haegen. This annual report is always a hot topic in the industry because it provides insight into key figures of the previous year which in this case was 2015.

At first sight, the outcome of the study seemed comforting; an increase of 3.9 per cent added value. A number that doesn’t say anything about profitability. The industry employment rate shows a rather less positive figure. With only a slight decline of 0.5 per cent, it still is a negative trend. Something we had not seen for a while. For years, the industry showed steady growth in employment, added value and export.

Apart from the shipping industry, the maritime industry mostly managed to navigate unscathed through the crisis up to 2015, in contrast to the general tendency of the struggling Dutch economy. Right from the start of the crisis in 2008, the shipping industry was hit hard. Freight rates dropped due to overcapacity and slacking world trade. Eight years later there are still no signs of recovery.

Low oil prices have a negative effect on the shipbuilding industry and cause turmoil in the offshore oil and gas industry. Reality is that the tables have turned. For the first time in years, the national economy outperforms the maritime industry. The industry finds itself in rough weather and, unfortunately, makes the news regularly in a disturbing manner. Stories covering layoffs and bankruptcies are all over the news. The Maritime Monitor used to be a reliable thermometer for the industry’s state of being. At the moment, we are almost at the end of 2016. And it is safe to say reality finally caught up and the industry is in a bad spot.

The Dutch maritime industry is famous for its ‘hands-on’ approach, our entrepreneurial spirit and self-sufficiency. Having said that, it will not surprise you that our companies are occupied and committed to identifying opportunities to find fair winds and following seas. Mind you, there are many opportunities. Think of offshore wind, tidal energy, sea farming, life cycle support in the superyacht industry and cruise shipping. 2017 will be an important year in the Netherlands because we’ll have to elect a new national government. The biggest opportunity will perhaps arise by having a new government with a strong focus on the maritime industry. Either way, if we want to turn the downfall around it’s ‘all hands on deck’!

Wim van Sluis Chairman, Nederland Maritiem Land (Maritime by Holland)

Industry’s view is provided by one of the firms affiliated with the Dutch maritime network organisation Maritime by Holland.

This article was previously published in Maritime Holland edition #7– 2016

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