One of the world's leading players in the maritime industry, the Netherlands' relationship with water goes back many centuries.

A country rooted in a seafaring tradition, the Netherlands plays an important role in the international maritime industry. Several factors such as location and accessibility of the Port of Rotterdam, well-trained people and a well-developed knowledge infrastructure, a thriving industrial sector and a long tradition in international trade have led to the development of the Dutch maritime industry.

The Netherlands' relationship with water goes back many centuries. It was in 1602 that the Dutch East India Company was established and the know-how and experience gained in those early days has helped the country preserve its excellent reputation as a maritime nation.

According to a report in Made in Holland — Maritime Industry (a publication of the Agency for International Business and Cooperation, which is part of the Netherlands Ministry of Economic Affairs), the Dutch maritime sector comprises more than 11,000 companies and 133,250 employees and has a turnover of approximately 22.5 billion euros (about Dh115.2 billion).

There are four major seaport complexes in the Netherlands. The country's largest marine port complex is based in and around the city of Rotterdam, representing 1.9 per cent of Dutch Gross National Product in 2005 and generating 8.2 billion euros (about Dh41.9 billion) in gross added value (source: www.hollandtrade. com). Active in every area of shipbuilding (the supply sector, shipyards and ship repair), the Dutch are also world leaders in a number of specific segments: dredging, offshore, navy, inland shipping and yacht building.

According to a report in the Maritime Market, Issue 17, 2006: "Due to tough competition from Asian countries, the Dutch shipbuilding industry has changed in recent decades into a flexible and highly innovative industry that specialises in building ships for the dredging, offshore, yacht, navy and inland and short sea shipping sectors." In terms of technology, Dutch maritime suppliers are world-class competitors. Building on centuries of expertise, they offer innovative solutions.

Reports in Made in Holland – Maritime Industry say that the Dutch shipbuilding sector performed exceptionally well in 2006. Figures published by the VSNI, the Netherlands' Shipbuilding Industry Association, show a clear continuation of the upward trend in order intakes that began in 2003. There were orders worth a total of two billion euros (about Dh10.2 billion) to build sea-going vessels, including marine vessels. The turnover from repairs to seagoing vessels in 2006 was 300 million euros (about Dh1,536 million). There were also 450 million euros (about Dh2,304 million) worth of orders to build small vessels, and 800 million euros (about Dh4,096 million) worth of orders to build large yachts.

Destination UAE

The UAE is an attractive destination for Dutch maritime companies because of its strategic location in the Arabian Gulf and the growing population. According to reports in the media, the Netherlands-based shipping company Redeij Waterweg BV will soon set up its regional base at the Dubai Maritime City. Waterweg is the leading operator of workboats for coastal and inland waters across the globe. The total fleet of the company, including subsidiaries, consists of more than 50 workboats.

Officials of the Dubai maritime industry feel that the presence of the Dutch shipping major will help in the development of the Dubai Maritime City since it will offer a wide range of services to the maritime sector, including transportation, towage, sub-sea survey etc. "The Netherlands maritime sector has also put its signature on the tremendous land reclamation projects, marine and coastal constructions in Dubai. The emirate came on the map with the Palm Islands and the World for which Van Oord carried out the dredging.

For some people who are aware of the maritime history of the Netherlands, they know that the country is still fighting against the rising seawater levels. Recently Dutch engineers were called in to advise the city of New Orleans on how to protect the city from future calamities caused by hurricanes or high tides," said Charles Oooms, Deputy Chief of Mission in the Dutch embassy.

The Sea Trucks Groups, NMT Shipping, and Radio Holland are some of the Dutch maritime companies that operate in the region. Set up in 1974, the Sea Trucks Groups provides services to the major oil and construction companies. Radio Holland, operational in the UAE since 1984, is the leading provider of navigational and communication electronics and services to the maritime, oil and gas and land communication industries in the GCC region.

Strategy for growth

Since the Middle East is witnessing unprecedented growth in sectors such as oil and gas, dredging and yachting, the UAE holds an important position in Radio Holland's Gulf marketing strategy as the regional hub for meeting the demand prevalent in these marine sectors. With staff in Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, Radio Holland provides a comprehensive repair service, both on land and to ships and offshore oil installations in the Gulf.

OceAnco Alblasserdam Yacht Building also looks at the Middle East as an extremely strong market for its products, considering that there is a huge demand for luxury yachts in the region. To create the perfect yacht, OceAnco employs a team of experts who design, engineer, construct and equip luxurious yachts. According to Jan Meijer, CEO of the Port of Sohar in Oman: "The Gulf is an exciting region and the long-existing ties with the Netherlands have led to a lot of activities where the Dutch expertise is needed.

For instance in dredging, supply yards and oil suppliers. Dutch ships frequent the Port of Sohar in Oman. General Cargo operators such as C. Steinweg have a terminal at the port. Also there are quite a number of Dutch tug boat operators in the Gulf region, such as the Svitzer Wysmuller. The Schelde Shipyard (one of the subsidiaries of Damen Shipyards) is currently assisting the Omani government in upgrading their naval vessels." The International Maritime College of Oman is also a joint venture between the largest Dutch maritime college STC and the government of Oman. "This modern maritime college (currently in Muscat) will move to Sohar in 2009. Since there is a shortage of qualified maritime personnel in this region, Dutch maritime lecturers will be a part of this institute," says Meijer.