ShippingWatch

Dutch shipowners want state aid for environmental regulations

The Dutch government should help the country's crisis-stricken carriers pay for complying with environmental requirements, such as new ballast water systems, the shipowner association's chairman tells ShippingWatch. She explains that the banks have shut the coffers. A better net wage scheme is also on the table.

Tineke Netelenbos is chairman of the Dutch shipowners' association KVNL. She previously served as Dutch transport minister from 1998 to 2002. Prior to this she served as education minister. Photo: KVNL

ROTTERDAM

The Dutch shipowners' association, KVNR, wants the country's government to pay for the many new environmental regulations awaiting the carriers in the years to come.

We are being asked to invest at a moment when it is almost impossible"

Tineke Netelenbos, Chairman, KVNR
Shipowners will soon have to find the money to pay for expensive ballast water management systems, and requirements will also emerge to scale down pollution.

But a protracted downturn in shipping has made the banks shut their coffers. As such, the shipowners' association now hopes that the state will foot the bill for the Dutch shipowners.

"We are being asked to invest at a moment when it is almost impossible," KVNR Chairman Tineke Netelenbos tells ShippingWatch.

"If you have to invest in systems for sustainability, you have to approach the banks. But most banks are not willing to finance the investment. This is why we call upon our government to help our shipowners through this difficult time. Otherwise some companies might not survive," she says.

Banks have run out of patience

The creation of a green fund is one of several demands set out by the Dutch shipowners' association in an effort to help the country's struggling carriers.

The Dutch carriers are especially active in multipurpose, heavy lift, and short sea. All three segments have been hit hard by the crisis since 2008, and even though things are slowly moving in the right direction in the Eurozone, this development has yet to impact the carriers' business.

The country's top banks, such as ING Bank and ABN Amro, have meanwhile run out of patience and are now starting to pull the plug. Late last year this hit carriers Flinter and Abis, both of which were declared bankrupt.

While KVNR hopes that the government will ease some of the financial pressure, the shipowners' association also wants to ease the challenges by expanding the country's net wage scheme.

Dutch seafarers currently only have to pay tax of 40 percent of their wages if they work on vessels sailing under the Dutch flag. This means that the carriers can pay their employees less, as they do not pay full taxes.

"We ask the government for a temporary improvement of the system, for a period of three years, that is especially relevant for smaller companies. We currently see some shipowners replacing Dutch seafarers with foreign seafarers because of the crisis. It is an unfortunate development because we have spent many years stimulating Dutch young people to pursue a career in our maritime sector," says Netelenbos, who served as Dutch minister of transport from 1998 to 2002.

Looking to follow Danish example

In an effort to strengthen the Dutch ship register, which noted a small decline in the number of commercial vessels from 2014 to 2015, the association would also like the country to establish an actual maritime authority.

We have informed the Dutch government that we are in favor of The maritime authority like you have in Denmark"

Tineke Netelenbos, Chairman, KVNR
As it looks now, responsibility for the country's maritime sector is spread across two authorities, none of which focus specifically on shipping. KVNR wants this changed, and the association looks in particular to Denmark's Danish Maritime Authority.

"The complexity increases when two organizations share the responsibility for maritime issues. We believe it would appeal to shipowners to have one organization that is focused on maritime issues. We have informed the Dutch government that we are in favor of a maritime authority like you have in Denmark," says Netelenbos.

Finally, KVNR wants Dutch vessels to be allowed to carry privately employed guards on board when sailing through waters with risk of pirate attacks. The Netherlands is currently the only European country which does not allow the use of private guards. Instead, the carriers have the option of asking the military to supply guards.

"There is a legislative initiative by the Liberal Party and the Christian Democratic Party. These parties currently do not hold a majority in parliament, but we think there will be sufficient support following the parliamentary elections on March 15th," says Netelenbos.

English Edit: Daniel Logan Berg-Munch

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