Sustainable shipping through smart, efficient vessels

Interview with Theo Klimp, fleet director at Wagenborg Shipping

The Dutch maritime history is very versatile and left its traces in even the farthest corners of the world. The trading routes into Asia and the American continent dominated by the United East India Company and the Dutch West India Company come to mind, but also commercial transport between the Hanseatic cities which emerged in the 14th century and where Dutch vessels played an equally important part. With a large number of general cargo vessels, today the Netherlands are still well represented in European coastal transport. However times have changed: currently, difficult economic circumstances combined with ever increasing (environmental) regulations predicate an uncertain future for many shipping companies. Furthermore, the impact of shipping on the environment is being scrutinised. We discussed the challenges that lay ahead for Wagenborg with fleet director Theo Klimp.

We find ourselves at the Projects and Newbuilds Department at the headquarters in Delfzijl.  From here we view the beautifully restored tjalk ‘Liberté’. “It all started with a tjalk once”, Theo Klimp begins. “Our founder Egbert Wagenborg shipped wood and salt to and from the Baltic states, amongst other things. Eventually he bought out every other contestant, sold the tjalk and started his own shipping business in Delfzijl in 1898 doing freight shipping, mediation in purchase and sales, newbuilds, and agency. Our current business model is still quite similar to the original line of activities.”


A considerable impact on the shipping industry

In the meantime 120 years have passed and Wagenborg’s fleet has grown from 1 to more than 180 vessels, increasing the available cargo capacity from 100 to over 1.5 million tonnes. This makes Wagenborg one of Europe’s largest shipping companies. However, the world economy endured the necessary developments which still have a considerable impact on the shipping industry. Theo explains: “Years of continual economic recession have caused a global decrease in cargo supply. A dry cargo market which was characterised by the lowest Baltic Dry Index ever, namely an index level of 290 points in February of 2016 versus the peak of 12.600 points in May of 2008! Overcapacity in most sections led to the bankruptcy of several shipping companies; some of these vessels are being converted to scrap, others are being laid up. Most of them, however, are bought up for a minimum price to ensure these vessel remain in business which often allows them to sail at a lower rate. This practice is destroying the shipping industry and is forcing reputable shipping companies off the market.”

Laws and regulations

Another point for concern for many shipping companies is the swift and successive implementation of new laws and regulations, such as mandatory ballast water treatment systems (2017), CO2 monitoring (2018), a global sulphur standard of 0,5% (2020) and NECA-areas (2021). It is not always evident when these regulations will be in effect or how enforcement can be safeguarded. On top of that very few proven techniques are currently available. It’s certain that the ship owners will have to pay a towering price to cover the impact of these regulations. How does Wagenborg anticipate these changes? “It is important to make the distinction here between the short and long term, in this case our existing fleet and our new vessels”, Theo explains. “As Wagenborg, we have the advantage to own a relatively new fleet. Because of this we do not have the urgency to invest in newbuilds; also, to some extend most of our designs are already prepared for the new regulations.  This allows us some time to research our best options. For this we carefully monitor our vessels’ performances in order to limit our maintenance expenses. Furthermore, we believe in a higher efficiency for new ship designs. Vessels should have less power, be suitable for more than one operational situation, and have a larger capacity while using an identical engine room and crew. We are also researching the possibilities of utilising autonomous shipping techniques and new propulsion means. All in line with the latest laws and regulations, of course”.


A minimal fuel consumption of 9 tones a day at 11 knots makes EasyMax world champion effiency and sustainability in her class
A minimal fuel consumption of 9 tones a day at 11 knots makes EasyMax world champion effiency and sustainability in her class

New techniques

Exploring and implementing new techniques for more sustainable shipping are no strangers to Wagenborg. Theo illustrates: “During construction in 2002, we have fitted our S- and B-series with a shore power connection and a Selective Catalytic Reduction system, thus reducing the NOx emission by about 99%. Furthermore, in 2015 the Balticborg and the Bothiaborg received a hybrid scrubber with innovative filters in order to filter SOx and other harmful substances from the emission gasses.  Our T-series is a pilot project for a ballast water management system. As far as hull shapes are considered we’ve made some huge strides forward with our V- and R- in regard to EEDI-reduction.”​

The future is now

The combination of increasingly strict regulations, society’s call for cleaner vessels and new technologies is a rich breeding ground for many videos showing beautiful animations of advanced vessels powered by wind, solar energy, methyl alcohol or hydrogen fuel. However, ideas and reality are separated by both laws and a good deal of obstacles. Theo, in his Groninger matter of factness, has addressed this before during a meeting of NML: “The use of LNG is expensive and complex, methyl alcohol does not have the power and the use of hydrogen fuels is still in the future. For now we will continue to use heavy fuel oil and gas oil, however this does not dismiss the fact that we are indeed greatly enhancing our sustainability. For me, sustainability is also about smarter and more efficient vessels. And this is something we are currently actively working on: just look at the Egbert Wagenborg!”

World champion

The Egbert Wagenborg is a new and innovative design. With an impressive cargo capacity of 14.300 ​tonnes  and a minimal fuel consumption of just 9 t/d at 11 knots, this new vessel is an efficiency and sustainability world champion in its class. Furthermore, the Egbert Wagenborg is fitted with a circuit that allows most systems to be accessible from shore in the case of diagnosing or failure support. “Whereas yesterday our fleet consisted of only analogue vessels with equal operating and monitoring on board, today with the Egbert Wagenborg we have the first Wagenborg vessel that can be remotely accessed in case a problem needs solving.” Theo concludes: “Remote control is now within our reach, allowing for onshore assistance during the vessel’s maintenance. As for autonomous shipping? Maybe in the next decade.”


“For me, sustainability is also about smarter and more efficient vessels: just look at the Egbert Wagenborg!”

Easymax nominated for KVNR Shipping Award

Wagenborg’s latest ship design, the ‘EasyMax’, has been nominated for the prestigious ‘KVNR Shipping Award’. This award will be presented in November 2017. By awarding their own Maritime KVNR Shipping Award, the KVNR wants to illustrate that shipping is an area that is continuously innovating and where environment, sustainability and social efforts are top of the agenda. The EasyMax is an open-top multipurpose ice-classed vessel with a cargo capacity of 14,300 tonnes and a hold capacity of 625,000 cubic feet. By combining a large cargo capacity with an extremely low fuel consumption, this Wagenborg vessel is unrivalled in terms of sustainability. 


New technologies aboard the Wagenborg fleet



B-​serie with hybrid scrubbers

S-serie with Selective Catalytic Reduction systeem

T-serie with ballast water management systeem