“The government has been working since day one on strengthening the competitiveness of the maritime industry,” said Siv Jensen, Norwegian Minister of Finance, who co-presented the strategy with Monica Mæland, Minister of Trade and Industry, onboard the sailboat Christian Radich in Oslo last May. “Now we have come up with several measures that ensure that the maritime industry can assert itself among the world’s leading industries.”
Among the key points of the government’s Blue Growth strategy are a strengthening of the net wage scheme, more funds for research and development, such as the MARKOM 2020 program, and an easing of trade area limitations for NIS (Norwegian International Ship) vessels. This will help counter the considerable drop in the NIS register to 528 and the dwindling portion of cargo being transported along the Norwegian coast by Norwegian registered vessels, as well as the challenges facing the offshore fleet in the wake of low oil prices.
The current guidelines prohibit NIS vessels from carrying cargo or passengers between Norwegian ports or engaging in regular scheduled passenger transport between Norwegian and foreign ports. The new strategy relaxes cabotage (port-to-port transport along coastal routes) rules in NIS governing foreign short sea shipping, foreign-going ferries, and the Norwegian Continental Shelf. According to a survey conducted by the Norwegian Ship owners’ Association (NSA), eight ship owners plan to flag home 24 vessels from foreign ship registers as a result of the easing of the current guidelines.
“Relaxing cabotage rules will open the door to more ships sailing under the Norwegian flag,” said Sturla Henriksen, NSA chief executive officer. “This will contribute to strengthening Norway’s position and influence internationally.”
The NSA has hailed the government’s overall maritime strategy, calling it “positive and proactive” with important measures to bolster the Norwegian flag registers and strengthen the competitive advantage of Norwegian seafarers and maritime companies operating in tough international competition. In addition, the new strategy contain a series of measures within education and competency, measures that would contribute to positive developments in green shipping, a more service-oriented maritime authority and to maintain Norway’s leading position in the development of the High North.
“The strategy takes a broad approach and forms a solid foundation which should allow Norway to maintain its leading position, even in challenging times,” said Henriksen.
Norway is one of the world’s leading maritime nations with more than 110,000 employees. Revenues in the Norwegian maritime industry have doubled over the past ten years to NOK 175 billion annually. In many coastal communities, maritime companies represent more than half of the increased revenues and jobs.
In order to sustainably continue that growth, the government has proposed in its strategy a number of green initiatives promoting environmentally friendly technology and alternative fuels for vessels. Among them is a proposed requirement for low and zero emission technology on ferry bids when technologically possible.
“We see that the use of zero emission solutions such as electric power is no longer a Utopia, but a reality and that there is a great potential for gas driven and hybrid solutions in shipping,” said Tine Sundtoft, Minister of Climate and Environment. “We will therefore support research, evaluation and commercialization of solutions towards more environmentally friendly shipping.”
Tor Svensen, group executive vice president for Norway’s DNV GL, one of the world’s largest certification and advisory companies for the maritime, oil and gas and renewable power industries, said this sends a “strong signal” from the Norwegian government. “In the past, the government has been buying ferry services without actually having a green requirement,” he said in an interview at the Nor-Shipping Conference in Oslo.
The government also pledges in the new maritime strategy to start negotiations with business organizations as a continuation of the NOx Fund – expiring in 2017 – which stimulates investments towards nitrogen oxide emission reductions. The negotiations will start as soon as the government gathers more insight into the level of Norway’s international emission commitments from 2030, according to the Ministry of Climate and Environment.
Petter Haas Brubakk, Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise’s director of industrial policy, welcomed the government’s invite to the negotiating table on the NOx Fund. Brubakk has been heading the negotiating committee for a new NOx Fund deal, which consists of 15 cooperating business organizations, including the Norwegian Fishermen’s Association, Norwegian Oil and Gas Association and the Federation of Norwegian Aviation Industries, among others.
“The environmental agreement on NOx provides a predictable framework that reduces emissions and promotes environmentally friendly technologies,” said Brubakk. “The business sector’s NOx Fund has reported pressure from companies that want a clarification because of pending investment decisions.”
Since 2008, companies with activities in Norway have been paying into the NOx Fund rather than the NOx tax in exchange for implementing environmental measures that reduce nitrogen oxide emissions. The result has been 28,000 tons in expected NOx reductions and conversion to several dozen LNG driven ships.
“It was the NOx Fund that actually promoted LNG shipping in Norway,” said Svensen. “Without that, I don’t think it would have happened to the same extent that it did.”