Annet Koster has been the director of the Royal Association of Netherlands Shipowners (KVNR) for a bit less than a year. She doesn’t have a maritime background but she does have extensive experience in the associations sector and has made her mark as an active lobbyist, qualities that she can deploy to help many shipping companies with innovation within the sector. “I’ve held this position for almost a year now, working to raise the profile of the Dutch maritime shipping industry and to introduce people to this dynamic and truly Dutch sector of the economy.”
“I think it’s important for shipping companies to be able to do business without too many restrictions,” says Annet Koster, “without all kinds of red tape.” The KVNR therefore represents the interests of its members, i.e. companies in the Netherlands that operate seagoing vessels, supported by as many associate members as possible. Ms Koster continues: “We do that, for example, by means of collective lobbying, individual service provision, and promoting the exchange of knowhow between members wherever possible. But the KVNR can’t do that all by itself, of course. The involvement of shipping companies like Wagenborg is essential to the success of the Association.”
“Wagenborg is one of our closely committed members. Not just right now; it always has been.”
Shipping companies are sometimes each another’s biggest competitors because they literally travel in one another’s wake and naturally want to achieve the best possible result for their own business. “The KVNR doesn’t interfere with how the market operates, but does look for ways to create a level playing field.” It’s of great importance for the survival of Dutch shipping companies for there to be sufficient competitiveness, particularly at global level. The reason is not just to be able to compete internationally but also to be distinctive and to be the best. “That’s why it’s important for Dutch shipping companies to work together through the KVNR,” says Ms Koster. “One major advantage of doing so is that the KVNR – acting on behalf of employers – is one of the social partners in drawing up collective labour agreements for the shipping industry.”
The KVNR has almost 400 members and 100 associate members. “Wagenborg is one of our closely committed members. Not just right now; it always has been. Wagenborg is always willing to provide input or participate in consultations. It’s not just represented on the KVNR’s board,” says Ms Koster, “but it also plays an active part in all our committees, such as those for economic affairs, safety and the environment, and labour affairs.”
A united front
The KVNR’s work focusses on politics, the government, the maritime cluster, and society in general, particularly when the common interests of its members are concerned. Many of those members consider it important to work together so as to present a united front at national, European, and global level. “The KVNR can act as a lobbyist for anything that affects a shipping company, meaning that the company can do business without too many restrictions. What the Association wants is an effective and reliable government that doesn’t block but facilitates. That’s the best way for us to protect and promote common interests and achieve the maximum for the Dutch shipping industry, not just today but in the future as well.”
Over the years, other topical issues have come to play a role too. Ms Koster explains: “In times of crisis, different issues play a role than at present. At the beginning of the crisis, financing was a hot topic. Today, the hot topics are sustainability and retrofitting, with innovation playing an important role.” By innovating it’s possible to respond in time to upcoming legislation, for example regarding exhaust fumes, ballast water, electronic links between ship and shore, etc. “Innovation is necessary to strengthen economic growth and the competitive position of the Dutch shipping industry. Companies like Wagenborg have numerous ongoing innovation projects in which they show that they like to lead the way. Shipping and innovation belong together and ships are being built (and retrofitted) ever more effectively – nautically, environmentally, and digitally.”
The KVNR has introduced the Maritime KVNR Shipping Award as a means of demonstrating that maritime shipping is a sector involving constant innovation and that the environment, sustainability, and responsible business conduct are high on its agenda. Last year Wagenborg received this coveted award for its cargo vessel Egbert Wagenborg.
The KVNR can look back on numerous success stories in the course of its existence. “During those 25 years, the tonnage tax in 1996 was one of our biggest successes. It’s a flat-rate tax based on the net tonnage of seagoing vessels instead of the actual operating profit. The system ultimately resulted in substantially lower remittances for shipping companies sailing under the Dutch flag.” Today, the Dutch flag is still highly regarded internationally. “For decades, it’s stood for quality of service. It’s a reason for shipping companies to proudly sail under the Dutch flag.”
Dutch history is known for its rich maritime tradition, which both Wagenborg and the KVNR have formed part of for many years. The KVNR has existed in its present form since 1992, when the Royal Netherlands Shipowners Association (KNRV) and the Association of Netherlands Short-Haul Shipowners (VNRK) merged to form the Royal Association of Netherlands Shipowners (KVNR). “The history of the united shipowners goes back almost 200 years,” says Ms Koster. “Because Wagenborg was already a member of our legal predecessors, such as De Groninger Eendracht and the KNRV, it automatically became a member when we were founded in 1992. We’ve already been through a lot together, and who knows what the future will bring,” she says with a smile.
“Companies like Wagenborg have numerous ongoing innovation projects in which they show that they like to lead the way. ”
The KVNR celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. “That’s quite a long time,” says Ms Koster. “but the future will present many challenges too. In the area of geopolitics, I expect international trade barriers to have a great deal of impact. Sustainability and innovation will also remain a permanent theme, and I expect digitisation to play an increasingly prominent role on our agenda in the future. And when you think about autonomous sailing and cybersecurity, then the consequences for the labour market seem set to be pretty drastic.” The labour market is already under considerable pressure due to the shortage of engineers, the sector’s image, and insufficient new crew coming in after leaving school.
“As the body representing Dutch shipping companies, the KVNR will continue to focus on politics, the government, the maritime cluster, and society in general. We lobby so that shipping companies can do business worldwide without too many restrictions, with cleaner ships that operate safely. I aim in any case to stand up for the Dutch maritime shipping industry.”