2023 annual review

Passing new milestones

Dear reader,

The year 2023 had a relatively quiet start in the shipping industry. However, from early July, the situation quickly changed, influenced by events such as the fall of the Dutch cabinet, a burning car carrier in the Wadden Sea near the Dutch coast, and a war in the Middle East in the autumn with direct and indirect consequences for shipping. 

Three themes were central to the shipping industry in 2023: the energy transition, labour market shortages and the Dutch business climate. I would like to take you through the developments of 2023 based on these three themes. 

On behalf of the entire team at the Royal Association of Netherlands Shipowners (KVNR), I wish you a successful and prosperous 2024! 

Warm regards, 

Annet Koster
Managing Director KVNR 

Annet Zwart.jpg

Accelerating the energy transition

At the end of June, a substantial amount of 210 million euros was allocated from the National Growth Fund for the implementation of the Maritime Master Plan, aiming to develop around 40 climate-neutral ships. The subsidy scheme will open from the second quarter of 2024. This is important, because from 1 January 2024, the European Emissions Trading System (EU-ETS) also comes into effect for maritime shipping. In the autumn, the KVNR conducted informational sessions across the country with its members regarding the implementation of EU-ETS. 

There are now powerful incentives in place to accelerate the greening of the Dutch fleet in the coming years. Despite the significant allocation of funds for the implementation of the Maritime Master Plan, there will be a substantial increase in costs for sea transport from 2024 due to the EU-ETS obligation on the ‘CO2 side’. The KVNR is therefore additionally committed to reinvesting EU ETS remittances for clean shipping. The KVNR will also continue to plead for lowering the ETS threshold from 5,000 GT to 400 GT.

In the field of global climate action, a historic agreement was reached in July 2023. The  member states of the International Maritime Organization of the United Nations agreed to a revision of the goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the sector: achieving net-zero emissions in or around 2050. As far as the KVNR is concerned, this a good result that promotes a level international playing field: everyone must act! 

The increasingly greener and more efficient propulsion technologies of seagoing ships relies on the availability of sufficient sustainable energy carriers. In 2023, therefore, the KVNR was closely involved in the development of a ‘Fuel Transition Roadmap’ under the supervision of the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO). The KVNR is convinced that there is no single silver bullet, but that there will be multiple solutions for the various types of ships in different market segments. In the KVNR’s view, the exploration of nuclear energy applications should also be explicitly considered in this context. 

In addition to all the focus on new construction and refitting/modification, within the context of climate and the environment, attention must also be given to the ship dismantling process. Once seagoing ships are taken out of service for recycling, this process must be carried out in a manner that is responsible for both people and the environment. The KVNR is relieved that the international Hong Kong Convention, agreed upon in 2006 for this purpose, has finally been ratified by a sufficient number of countries in July 2023. The treaty comes into effect in 2025. Due to the international nature of the industry, global regulations are of great importance. The Hong Kong Convention is a great example of such international regulation.


Positions ships: KVNR members navigating the globe

Promoting the job market for seafarers 

In 2023, concerns about the availability of qualified seafarers were also at the forefront, also taking into account the demand in the long run. In 2023, the KVNR particularly focused on the shortage of Dutch seafarers. When they retire from their seafaring career, usually after around 5 to 7 years, these seafarers become essential for the industry for other maritime professions in the Netherlands. This includes roles in ship management offices, maritime education, shipyards, and pilotage services. In addition to attracting new students to maritime education, it is also crucial to provide current seafarers with a lasting perspective on a maritime career.

Currently, there are 23,819 seafarers, of which 5,250 hold Dutch nationality, working in the Dutch-flagged fleet. These figures are derived from the first comprehensive study on the demographic composition of the crew on the Dutch-flagged fleet, conducted by the KVNR in the summer of 2023. 


Number of seafearers employed on board of the Dutch flagged fleet


The KVNR was and is also actively involded in the development of an Human Capital implementation programme of the Dutch Maritime Network to create as much space as possible for opportunities in the maritime labour market. In addition, the KVNR is also independently stepping up labour market promotion by assisting young people in various ways to find their way to maritime education. The seafaring occupation is a special profession which demands much from those serving on board of ships.

As a maritime nation with major seaports, the Netherlands serves as a host contry for many visiting foreign seafarers. In order to welcome these seafarers ashore, seafarers' centres play a fundamental role. Seafarers' centres function as a "home away from home," providing a space for seafarers to take a break from their workplace, connect with others, and access various recreational facilities, including sportfacilities. Therefore, the KVNR advocates for the establishment of a sustainable funding mechanism for seafarers' centres. The current fundings is inadequate. Shipping companies pay harbor dues in ports and according to the KVNR, a small portion of that contribution could be utilized as a consistent source of funding for seafarers' centres.

Winner Maritime Achievement Award

The Maritime Achievement Award was awarded for the first time in 2023 and aims to highlight maritime accomplishments with public significance. It recognizes individuals or initiatives that play a distinctive role in advancing the position of the Dutch maritime sector and/or contribute significantly to the public conversation about the Netherlands as a maritime-relevant nation. According to the jury, with Annet Koster as jury president, the Shipping Database (Databank Koopvaardij) not only brings the crucial role of seafarers in merchant shipping closer to their families but also makes this history visible and tangible for the broader public, demonstrating its added significance this year.

In terms of legislation, the new ‘Maritime Crews Act’ (Wbz) is particularly significant. A process to modernise the old ‘Seafarers’ Act’ has been ongoing for several years. The current proposal in this regard has not yet been optimised, especially concerning the nationality requirement for the captain on board Dutch flagged seagoing ships. The KVNR calls on the new Dutch Lower House to engage in discussions with the sector about the necessary adjustments. 



Promoting maritime entrepreneurship for the broad prosperity of the Netherlands 

Throughout the year, the KVNR has worked on its own data collection and analysis. One of the notable findings is that, as of the reference date of 20 September 2023, fewer than half of the 2,583 seagoing ships with Dutch connections fly the Dutch flag (1,146). Although shipowners engage in maritime entrepreneurship with the Netherlands, the Dutch ship registry appears to be insufficiently attractive. This is a cause for concern.

Engaging with politicians and administrators is a core responsibility of the KVNR as an advocate. With the 2023 Dutch parliamentary elections, there was an opportunity to highlight all maritime priorities. In collaboration with maritime partners, the KVNR organized an election debate, emphasizing the call for the establishment of a maritime authority. According to the KVNR, a robust vision for an attractive Dutch maritime sector should underpin reliable policies and excellent services.

Earlier in 2023, it was already recognised that maritime entrepreneurship needs a boost, as shown by the adopted motion in the Dutch House of Representatives by Stoffer (SGP) regarding the extension of the tonnage scheme to work vessels. At the same time, the sector must brace itself for the abolition of the commonly known ‘fossil subsidies’, which gained momentum this year. The KVNR is quite willing and able to embrace this change, provided there is a well-thought-out plan for its implementation. Changing course unilaterally as a country, if at all possible, can bring about opportunities and risks for the international competitiveness of maritime entrepreneurs.

In the Netherlands, therefore, the maritime sector must first be put in order and given a solid foundation for this purpose. A long-term vision for the shipping industry prevents shipowners pursuing a leading position with substantial investments from being unable to recoup those investments due to inconsistent government policies. Attitudes towards exhaust gas cleaning systems or asbestos-containing gaskets are clear examples. Also, as an illustration, it is then better possible to establish a programme to address unwarranted regulatory pressure, which increasingly affects workers and shipowners. 

With the release of the maritime industry sector agenda in 2023, the government is demonstrating its openness to sector-specific initiatives. Now it is important to follow through, also for the widers maritime industry. 


The KVNR members are located throughout the Netherlands

Fair winds and following seas! 

By the end of the year, the Dutch parliamentary elections have just resulted in an outcome that brings uncertainty for the future. The coalition formation process is now in full swing, and the Dutch shipping industry hopes for the swift installation of a new cabinet that will navigate the challenges ahead and bring stability and reliable policies. The challenges in the three themes mentioned earlier are substantial and require ingenious long-term plans. At the same time, there are significant opportunities that we want to seize. Taking into account the international context, in which the Netheralnds plays its role, is pivotal in addressing issues such as the situation regarding the Red Sea area over the past weeks.

So we start the new year with the mission: there is work to be done by everyone! And not just in the Netherlands. A global industry like shipping preferably operates under globally applicable regulations. And in Europe too, there are ongoing developments. With the European elections in June 2024, we are cautiously looking ahead to follow up on important steps when it comes to strategic autonomy, the modal shift to water, maritime safety and more. In doing so, the KVNR is happy to take its responsibility as the industry representative of and cooperation partner for the Dutch shipping industry, as befits an 'umbrella' organisation. 

Throughout 2023, the KVNR visited as many of its members as possible, for Bart van Bemmelen this included sailing along with Hartman Seatrade (voice over in Dutch)