April 25, 2019
Dutch Inland Shipping Leading in Europe

In terms of market share, the Dutch are still the biggest player in inland shipping in Europe, while also leading the way in making the industry more sustainable.

Figures for 2017 show that Dutch inland navigation vessels, with 49 billion tonne-kilometres, had a share of no less than 33.3% in the total transport by water in the countries of the European Union. In terms of the number of tonnes transported (365.7 million tonnes) and the number of containers (44.6% share), Dutch inland shipping is also the biggest player, much bigger than its closest competitors, Belgium and Germany. Of the five countries with the highest turnover in European inland navigation/freight transport, the Netherlands has a share of no less than 46.3%, Germany 32.2%, France 5.4%, Switzerland 3.6% and Belgium 3.4%. Freight transport on European inland waterways accounts for a total of approximately 5.1 billion euros in turnover.

River Cruises Are Now Serious Business

Unlike the freight sector, the Dutch inland shipping sector for passenger transport on European inland waterways has to settle for a fourth place with a share in turnover of "only" 8.4%, after Switzerland with 24.4%, Germany with 21.3%, Italy with 16.3% and France with 14.7%. Of course, this is a pity, because the "Rhine trip" popular with elderly people has in recent decades shaken off its old-fashioned image. With a turnover of 2.5 billion euros, cruising on the European inland waterways has become serious business in which a lot of money is involved.

Plenty of Money Earned in 2017

All these fine figures for inland navigation can be found in the "European Inland Navigation Market Observation" of autumn 2018 published by the CCNR, the Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine. According to the statistics kept by the CCNR, the Dutch inland shipping fleet had 5058 vessels by the end of 2017, including 3519 dry cargo vessels, 811 tankers and 724 tugs and pusher craft. This means that Dutch inland shipping has a 37% share in the European Union.

In terms of tonnage, the Dutch share is even greater. With a total of 7.79 million tons (dry cargo 6.05 million tons and liquid cargo 1.75 million tons), the Dutch inland shipping entrepreneurs have a share of 46% in the EU inland shipping fleet. Moreover, Dutch entrepreneurs are also able to earn money from it. In 2017 they managed a total turnover of 2567 million euros. With a 37% share, this is higher than any other country and also more than the 33.3% in tonne-kilometres transported. This means a higher turnover with fewer tonne-kilometres.

'Smaller, but still the largest in the EU in terms of numbers' (picture by H.Chr. de Wilde, published with "Maritieme Markt", April 2019).

Fragmented Sector

This is despite the fact that the sector is highly fragmented. The vessels are owned by 4263 companies, 3348 in the freight sector and 915 in the passenger sector. The inland navigation sector employs 13,418 people, 10,118 in freight transport and 3300 in passenger transport. The inland shipping companies are reasonably dispersed throughout the Netherlands, with concentrations in the provinces along the major rivers. Zuid-Holland has the largest share in the sector with 1320 companies in the freight sector and 130 in the passenger sector.

Importance for Port of Rotterdam

Even the port of Rotterdam would be nothing without inland navigation. Of the 467.4 million tonnes transshipped in Rotterdam in 2017, 158.1 million tonnes were transported by inland shipping, 45.7 million tonnes were transported to Rotterdam by inland vessels and 112.4 million tonnes from Rotterdam to (final) destinations in the Dutch or European hinterland. The latter even represents a share of 55%, compared to 37% for road transport and 8% for freight transported by train. Every year no less than 120,000 inland ships call at the port of Rotterdam against almost 30,000 seagoing vessels that are, of course, on average much larger.

70.5% of the goods loaded on inland vessels and 93% of the freight on board trains were transported from Rotterdam to destinations abroad. As far as destinations abroad are concerned, 70% of the freight transported by inland vessels went to Germany as opposed to 76.5% of the freight transported by train. Approximately two thirds of the goods transported to Germany by inland ships and by train consisted of iron ore (42.5%) and coal (25%).

European Transport

What also becomes clear from the CCNR's Market Observation, is that inland navigation is increasingly becoming a truly inter-European form of transport. In Western Europe, inland navigation is growing steadily, but the really high growth rates of 58% (Austria), 55% (Slovakia), 48% (Hungary), 67% (Croatia via the Sava) and 89% (Serbia) take place in the countries along the Danube and its tributaries. Like Rotterdam and Antwerp for the Rhine, Scheldt and Meuse, the Romanian seaports of Constanta, Tulcea and Galati are becoming increasingly important for the supply and transport of cargo destined for countries along the Danube.

The IVR (International Association for the representation of the mutual interests of the inland shipping and the insurance and for keeping the register of inland vessels in Europe) also had a good overview of the developments in inland navigation over the period 2007-2017 in its annual report 2017. This was a particularly turbulent period for inland navigation, with initially a boom in newbuilds flooding the market and then a deep crisis as a result of the double recession of 2008 and 2011, which was exacerbated by self-created overcapacity.

These statistics show that, despite all the crises, new construction is still in full swing and that the Dutch inland shipping sector still accounts for a large proportion of this. Between 2007 and 2017, 693 cargo ships, 593 tankers, 221 passenger ships, 64 tug and pusher craft and 92 different types or 1663 new ships were brought into service. Of those 1663, no less than 996 were Dutch ships, 247 were German, 231 were Belgian and 131 were Swiss. 29 ships had Luxembourg as their home country and 27 France.

Green Award Ships

Of those 1663, 252 dry cargo ships, 351 tankers, 8 passenger ships, 14 tugboats and 4 other types of ships succeeded in being certified as Green Award ships. In total there were 629; 395 were good for the qualification bronze, 212 for silver and 22 for gold. The fact that 629 of the 1663 newbuilds were awarded the Green Award certificate shows that more and more inland shipping companies are opting to build a ship that is as efficient and clean as possible, which can still sail when environmental regulations become more stringent.

Although 2017 was a good year in terms of newbuilds in inland navigation, 2018 was meagre. According to a report from the IVR in the "Scheepvaartkrant" (Dutch shipping paper), sixty new ships were built in Western Europe last year, a third less than in 2017. However, it was again Dutch inland shipping entrepreneurs who brought most new ships into service in 2018. Still, the sector will not benefit from too many newbuilds being brought into service, as the threat of overcapacity remains, which will in turn result in excessively low freight rates.

Crowdfunding Offers New Financing Solutions

This levelling off of new building is also due to the fact that it is becoming more and more difficult for inland shipping entrepreneurs to obtain credit from their banks. Banks are withdrawing from SME financing, stated Transport-Online. In the inland shipping sector, too, bank loans are no longer readily available. More and more skippers are therefore turning to crowdfunding as a financing solution for the acquisition of an inland waterway vessel.

Through Geldvoorelkaar.nl, the largest crowdfunding platform in the Netherlands, several inland navigation vessels have already been successfully financed. With crowdfunding, an entrepreneur borrows from a group of investors (the crowd), who get their investment repaid with interest. The entrepreneur finds financing and the investors make a profit.

Ships are popular investment opportunities among the investors of Geldvoorelkaar.nl. Many of these projects receive financing within hours or even minutes after they appear on the platform, reports Geldvoorelkaar.nl. Recently, a motor freighter of 200,000 euros was funded within 1.5 hours by 249 investors. This project was supervised by Schoonderwoerd Consultancy & Business Advice and DGH Advice, both experienced advisors in ship financing.

'Crowdfunding is more than just financing. It brings entrepreneurs and investors together in an accessible way. In this way, everyone who cares about shipping can invest in the growth of the sector,' says Geldvoorelkaar.nl.

Golden Future

This growth is possible and very much needed, according to Dominic Schrijer, who took office on 1 February as the new chairman of the trade association Royal BLN-Schuttevaer. From 2013 to 2019 he was mayor of Zwijndrecht and before that alderman for the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA) in Rotterdam. According to Schrijer, more transport needs to be shifted from road to water, but to do so, the industry needs support for sustainability.

In the short term, this can still be done by mixing existing fuels with biofuel, but the current internal combustion engines will eventually have to be replaced by electric engines and/or propulsion systems using hydrogen. This is the only way in which inland shipping can achieve its ambition of climate-neutral shipping by 2050.

The text above was translated fromt the latest "Maritieme Markt" editorial published in SWZ|Maritime's April issue, written by editor-in-chief Antoon Oosting. It is also possible to download the original Dutch version as pdfSubscribers can read the full April issue of SWZ|Maritime online now. Not yet a subscriber? Please visit our subscriptions page.

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