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The Norwegian maritime cluster - opening doors worldwide

With a coastline stretching over 2,500 kilometres as the crow flies, around 90,000 people directly employed in the maritime industries and the third largest fleet in the world, Norway can safely be described as a nation of seafarers. The industry, second only in size and scope to the burgeoning oil industry in terms of exports, comprises of ship-owners, shipbuilders, service providers and niche experts within research, classification and technology. Some of the world’s biggest ship financing banks and ship broking firms are on Norwegian soil, as is 20% of the global ship insurance market. Additionally, branches relate directly or indirectly to the fishing and aquaculture industries and to the offshore industry. In the words of Tom Cantero, Chairman of the Association of Norwegian Maritime Exporters (NME), “It is no exaggeration to say that the Norwegian industry is the most complete maritime supply chain in the world,” (Norwegian Solutions, 2008).

But how can such a wide-ranging, multi-faceted industry be coordinated, such that expertise, innovations and research findings be shared, new markets reached and environmental targets met? The answer is bound up in a myriad of maritime organisations committed to ensuring that the Norwegian maritime cluster remains a close-knit unit, developing the strong internal market that is a precondition for global competitiveness. Many of these organizations have received strong governmental backing, reflected and supported by agreements such as the Soria Moria declaration, which prioritizes the maritime industry through national policies for industries and trade. The largest organisations include NME, The Norwegian Shipowners’ Association and The Maritime Forum of Norway.

Tom Cantero, Chairman of the Association of Maritime Exporters (NME), believes that “it is no exaggeration to say that the Norwegian industry is the most complete maritime supply chain in the world,” (Norwegian Solutions, 2008).

A Growing Cluster
The Norwegian Government is active in supporting the growth of the Norwegian maritime cluster and, since the Soria Maria declaration, offering significant financial backing. In the research and innovation fields, together with efforts to step up competence and skills in the maritime sector, there is a budget increase of more than NOK 100 million from 2007 to 252 million kroner today. This figure includes NOK 25 million for upgrades in the infrastructure at the maritime research facility, MARINTEK, and further proposals for a new tax regime for Norwegian shipping companies in line with tax regimes available in the European Union. These generous budget increases can only consolidate the Norwegian maritime cluster’s position as one of the most complete in the world.


Research is one of the key elements of the Norwegian Government’s focus on the maritime energy. Here, the SINTEF/MARINTEK Ocean Basin Laboratory facility is used to carry out wide-ranging research including energy production from the sea, offshore marine operations and subsea systems and operations.
© Thor Nielsen/SINTEF Media



Expertise within the industry in terms of environmental technology and the implementation of national, European and increasingly global ideals, relies upon close cooperation within the industry. Take, for example, the shift towards a focus on short-sea shipping, which carries with it the advantage of reducing the amount of emissions-heavy land-based goods transport. Nationally, DNV (Det Norske Veritas) is involved in assisting the Government to formulate policy. Further down the line, shipping companies and organisations such as Eidesvik and the Ulstein Group are facilitating the change at a “grassroots” level. “We believe that short-sea shipping can improve regional logistics chains with greater economic efficiency and environmental performance than the alternatives,” says Gunvor Ulstein, CEO of the Ulstein Group (Ulstein Today, No. 3 2008).

The same can be said of emissions targets, which also underline the effects of close cooperation within the maritime cluster. MAROFF (Marine Activities and Offshore Operations) is a collaborative scheme between the Research Council of Norway and Innovation Norway with more than NOK 30 million now available for research into the development of NOx-related technology. Elsewhere, the Ulstein Group has funded a project with DNV for a new emissions indexing system, which allows ship-owners to plot and measure the environmental effects of new configurations, from engine layout to the use of different fuel types and new environmental technologies.

The cluster’s focus on education, research and development has facilitated growth and productivity within the industry that is higher than any other business sector in Norway. Over the past fifteen years, value creation in the Norwegian maritime industries has steadily increased from around NOK 35 billion in 1996 to more than 80 billion today. The maritime industries represent around 7% of the total value added by Norwegian industries.

This level of success is indicative of an industry at the cutting edge of maritime knowledge. The Marine Technology Centre at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) provides a focus: here, researchers have won international acclaim for work within design and hydrodynamics, shipbuilding, operations and logistics. R&D services are exported worldwide, as Norwegian expertise grows thanks to strong collaboration within the sector. Another example is MARUT, a cooperative effort between the Ministry of Trade and Industry, regulatory bodies and a large number of Norwegian organizations, with innovation as its goal.

The Association of Maritime Exporters – Establishing Networks for over 130 Companies
A brief history of NME’s establishment gives further indication of the synergy within the Norwegian maritime industry. “NME was established by the maritime equipment industry in Spring 1995 in connection with ongoing strategy amendments in the former Norwegian Export Council,” explains Managing Director Halvard Olafsen. “With the establishment, NME received the status of the Export Council’s maritime branch. In 1999, NME was established as an independent trade association with the aim of implementing goal-oriented market campaigns for its members, together with the whole Norwegian maritime industry.”

Today, the Association of Maritime Exporters is an umbrella organization offering support to more than 130 companies. Established and owned by the industry, NME acts as a forum for the exchange of information, through exhibitions, seminars, trade missions and a recently remodelled website. By establishing networks both within Norway and abroad, NME is able to offer member companies favourable promotional space at international shipping exhibitions, as well as researching information about the potential of emerging markets within the specialist areas of the companies that it represents. Since its establishment, NME has arranged more than 100 national pavilions, 70 conferences as well as worldwide seminars and business delegations.

“Through cooperation with the member organizations within the European Maritime Equipment Council, we can, amongst other things, have an impact on conditions and relations during international fairs and conferences over the whole world,” says Olafsen. “Cooperation” is a keyword for NME, which works closely with the Norwegian Ministry of Trade & Industry and a number of organizations including the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association, Maritimt Forum, and Innovation Norway. Strong working relationships with international exhibitions like SMM, Marintec China, Seatrade and Kormarine are essential to the role NME plays in the increased globalisation of the maritime industries.

The Maritime Forum of Norway
Like NME, the Maritime Forum of Norway (Maritimt Forum) encourages dialogue and cooperation in order to facilitate engagement with emerging international markets. It is also key to the cluster’s involvement in European initiatives and the entire European maritime industry. Regular conferences and topical forums, as well as close ties to the European Maritime Industries Forum (EMIF), help to cement relations that are in essence highly beneficial to the cluster’s international reputation.

Maritimt Forum works to build consensus around standards and is politically engaged, encouraging the government to recognize the importance of the industry economically and to provide policies and conditions that ensure its continuing success. Around 600 maritime companies and organisations draw on Maritimt Forum’s expertise, including both employer and employee organizations, buyers and sellers.

An Historical Perspective
Many of Norway’s most important maritime organizations have a history stretching back to the beginning of the last century. These include the Norwegian Shipbrokers’ Association, established in 1919 and, even further back, in 1909, the Norwegian Shipowners’ Assocation (NSA). The NSA is a national organization working within industry, trade and employers’ issues for the benefit of its members. The NSA is also influential abroad, not least in relation to the environment, where it encourages members to focus on innovation – an aim which takes on global proportions given the NSA’s membership of the UN Global Compact. The NSA also helps to give Norway a powerful voice in the International Maritime Organization, through an increased effort to secure better environmental regulations.

The unerring ability of different organisations and companies within the maritime cluster to work together to open doors for one another ensures that Norway’s influence on the international stage will keep on growing.



Recycling: just one of the ways in which Scandinavian environmental organizations such as Save the North Sea are working for greater industry commitment. The Norwegian maritime cluster’s many organisations and companies work closely to make such ideals a reality.
© Stig Hedström

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