Pieter van Oord: ‘Dutch shipbuilders must specialise much more’

The maritime manufacturing industry in the Netherlands must specialise and focus on technology to remain competitive in the world market. That was the message of CEO Pieter van Oord of marine engineering group Van Oord during the lunch debate of Maritime Platform.

He said this during the Maritime Platform lunch debate on 27 May, organised by Schuttevaer, SWZ|Maritime and Netherlands Maritime Technology (NMT).

According to Van Oord, it is time for a rethink in the industry. ‘What are we going to do in the future as a manufacturing industry in the Netherlands? In my opinion, you have to do what you can be competitive in. Competing in shipbuilding with low-wage countries is a lost cause.’

Focus on technology

‘We have a maritime cluster in the Netherlands, consisting of shipbuilding, innovative technology and education. Last year, one of these pillars was dealt a heavy blow: the country’s largest shipbuilders, Damen and Royal IHC, suffered losses running into millions.’

According to the CEO of the well-known dredging and offshore company, it is simply not feasible to build hulls in the Netherlands, because they come much cheaper from China. ‘What do we want to do and not do? The cluster has to concentrate more on technology, such as cranes and automation.’

Also read: [VIDEO] Van Oord acquires second autonomous survey vessel

‘A shift from working with your hands to working with your brain,’ says Van Oord.

‘Innovation requires production’

According to shipbuilder Thecla Bodewes, however, it is impossible to innovate without having a complete production process in the Netherlands. ‘No knowledge, without the skills and the cash. Innovations come from a production process.’

Bodewes stated that ships launched at TB Shipyards are designed and built much more efficiently and require less maintenance after construction than ships from low-wage countries. Bodewes calls on everyone in the sector to think more efficiently.

Bodewes: ‘We are dependent on each other. We have to work more efficiently to keep shipbuilding up to 12,000 tonnes in the Netherlands. That way we can pass on the innovations to the big ones. If we don’t produce at all in the Netherlands, we will lose the innovations.’

Also read: Thecla Bodewes Shipyards will build new research vessel for NIOZ

Setting a good example

Van Oord says it is setting a good example and had its last cable layer built at European shipyards. The hull was built in Romania and completed at Vard in Norway. With a crane from Huisman in Schiedam, the Netherlands. The latest water injection vessels were ordered from the Dutch Kooiman Marine Group. Van Oord: ‘We explicitly look at what shipyards are good at.’

Van Oord advised Bodewes not to turn itself into a jack of all trades. ‘Because that is the mistake that Damen and IHC made. They tried too often to do projects they did not understand. You have to find the niches you are good at.’

Industrial policy

Bodewes argued for a new industry policy, in which the government makes itself strong for the business community. ‘Go and get those orders. Take an example from China and Norway, which protect their own industry. We need to sit down with the four ministries responsible for this.’

She sees sustainability as one of the areas in which the Netherlands can position itself strongly. ‘Sustainability already plays a role in many tenders, of course. We must lead the way in sustainable production. Then we can play a role in the world market.

Picture: Pieter van Oord and Thecla Bodewes at the maritime lunch debate during Maritime Platform.

This article first appeared in Dutch on Schuttevaer.nl, a publication of SWZ|Maritime’s publishing partner Promedia.

Author: Mariska Buitendijk

Mariska Buitendijk is one of SWZ|Maritime's journalists as well as the magazine's copy editor.