India and The Netherlands – two of the world’s greatest maritime nations, the former was in ancient times the undisputed maritime powerhouse of the world and the latter is the contemporary world’s shipping capital. While the ingenious Dutch shipbuilders have been able to streamline and strengthen its century’s old maritime know-how through a continuous process of evolution, India somehow seems to have lost the way, unable to assimilate cutting-edge shipbuilding technology to its historical storehouse of maritime wisdom.
The Netherlands is blessed with a unique geographical position, being at the estuary of Meuse, Rhine, and Scheldt rivers. Also, it’s a fact that much of its landmass has been reclaimed from the sea and happens to be below sea level. The manner in which Dutch shipbuilders assimilated and infused high-tech solutions into their shipping industry is worthy of emulation as well as adulation.
Today, the Netherlands is home to some of the world’s most renowned shipbuilders like – Oceanco, Hessen Yachts, Feadship, Damen, AMELS, etc…. that manufacture some of the finest luxury yachts on planet earth. No wonder, with innovation writ large on every Dutch ship or yacht built, this maritime nation has been earning international accolades galore at the global superyacht awards for many years now.
For instance, if you are in Rotterdam city and embark upon a short trip to Alblasserdam located just 20 Kms. away, where the world-renowned Oceanco shipyard is located, you will come face to face with how the modern shipbuilding industry is evolving. At the Oceanco shipyard custom-designed yachts of 80 to 140 meters in length are built and needless to say, they are all game-changing yachts!
Mind you! Oceanco is a privately owned custom yacht builder and right from the beginning in 1987, Oceanco has built around 33 custom superyachts measuring up to 110m in length. On any given day at the Oceanco’s shipyard at Alblasserdam, a dedicated team of naval architects, designers, and engineers are at work crafting Superyachts that defy imagination. An all-new covered dry-dock, that facilitates the construction of yachts up to 140 meters is the piece de resistance.
Some of Oceanco’s prized creations are a veritable “Shippers Hall of Fame” if ever there was one! Iconic, groundbreaking yachts that shook the oceans – 82m Alfa Nero (World’s first-ever infinity pool), 91.5m PYC yacht Tranquility, the 85m Tripp-designed yacht Aquijo, the 110m Lobanov-designed KAOS, the 90m DeBasto-designed motor yacht DAR, LIFE design and the 90m DreAMBoat….to name just a few.
And, if Boat International – the renowned Superyacht & Luxury Yacht Guide’s recent revelation of Oceanco’s 127m sailing yacht, reportedly being constructed for Amazon founder Jeff Bezos stands true, the three-masted schooner is all set to become the world’s largest sailing yacht! WOW to Dutch Ingenuity!
The Netherlands with its open economy, its maritime cluster contributes immensely towards the country’s prosperity and the Dutch maritime cluster has its presence in all the continents and is involved in diversified domains like ports, maritime supplies, shipbuilding, dredging, maritime education, inland shipping, water supply, and fishing.
When it comes to the question of Indo- Dutch trade relations, the Netherlands is one of the top investors in India. According to Sigrid Kaag, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Netherlands – “The Netherlands has for a long time been a leader in this field, given its unique geographical position. It has been the go-to country in the past for shipping, shipbuilding including luxury yachts’, dredging, port infrastructure, digital port technology, marine technology, and port-hinterland logistics and this continues to date. Therefore India and the Netherlands have a clear-cut potential for shared growth in the sector through exchange of knowledge and expertise”.
During Dutch Prime Minister Rutte’s visit to India in May 2018, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had given the signal to a ‘fast track mechanism’, which is expected to provide both Indian and Dutch companies to overcome obstacles they face while doing business. The trade mission to India in 2018 saw the participation of more than 140 Dutch companies and over 650 million euros ($720 USD) worth of contracts were signed with Indian partners.
On the 2nd of March 2021, the Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Damodardas Modi inaugurated the Maritime India Summit-2021 virtually, which ranks as one of the world’s biggest virtual summits with the participation of a mind-boggling 0.17 million participants from 100 nations.
I quote his clarion call to the world maritime community –“India’s long coastline awaits you. India’s hardworking people await you. Invest in our ports. Invest in our people. Let India be your preferred trade destination. Let Indian ports be your port of call for trade and commerce.” Outstanding ain’t it?
No other government has been as assertive as the present dispensation when it comes to planning India’s roadmap for the nation’s big leap into the highly competitive global “Blue Economy”, which is valued at a staggering US$1.5 trillion per year.
There has never been a better time to consolidate and further strengthen Indo-Dutch bilateral ties by inculcating Dutch knowledge and technical know-how in the maritime sector in India. Prime Minister Modi has chosen a trusted lieutenant – Shri Sarbananda Sonowal to be the Minister of Ports, Shipping & Waterways as India gets ready to dive big-time into the global maritime landscape.
The maritime history of India dates back to the era of the Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro civilizations. The Rig-Veda – one of the four Vedas documents the names of water-going vessels and their components. India’s ancient marine industry also finds mention in the Arthashastra.
Indian Defence Review is of the opinion that from 3000 BC to 2000 BC, India was a naval superpower with a flourishing shipbuilding industry. The “Dark Age” of India’s shipbuilding began from 2000 BC to 600 BC. While, from 600 BC to the last leg of the 19th century, India’s maritime position was every bit glorious. India confronted the “Dark Age” again from the end of the 19th century to the 20th century
What would be the reaction of the Western World if they are told that iconic explorers like Alexander the Great and Vasco Da Gama themselves had recognized long back ancient India’s maritime competency? Not just that, Alexander had commissioned an entire flotilla to be built in India!
Way back in 1420 CE, Nicole Dei Conti left no stone unturned with his admiration for Indian shipbuilding prowess and he quotes – “The native of India build some ships larger than ours, capable of containing 2,000 butts. Some ships are so built-in compartments that should one part be shattered, the other portion remaining, the same may accomplish the voyage.”
F. Baltazar Salvyus, a Frenchman dating back to 1811 CE was of the opinion that in ancient times, Indian-made vessels were in great demand and that they could offer solutions to Europe. If historical evidence is anything to go by, the British seafarers too benefitted hugely from India’s vast storehouse of maritime knowledge, some of which they integrated successfully into their own shipping ethos.
In today’s ever-evolving maritime landscape, it is expected of Dutch shipbuilders who are blessed with a rich maritime tradition of ship-building, to contribute significantly towards India’s transition to the world of cutting edge shipbuilding and making a seamless transition in its efforts to reposition itself as a maritime powerhouse.
I foresee an era wherein Indian shipping engineers, designers, and architects will work in tandem alongside their Dutch counterparts and create superb ships and yachts in Indian shipyards just like Oceanco, Feadship, Hessen, Hakoort, and Amels!
If we look at the history of human civilizations, the “Dark Ages” do come and since humanity has evolved to great heights, both materially and spiritually, it is expected of the dominant nations to come to the aid of those who are struggling. Given the fact that India was once a naval superpower and for whatever reasons it hasn’t been able to transmit the rich maritime culture into contemporary times, the Dutch Midas-touch on India’s maritime landscape could prove to be very beneficial.
With a government that is proactive and committed to an open economy that supports foreign investment, the first visible signs of Indo-Dutch co-operation was the formation of the Indo-Dutch Port Forum that commenced in the year 2018 coinciding with the official visit of His Majesty King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands and Her Majesty Queen Maxima.
As a Travel Journalist and an avid yachting enthusiast, I believe the Indo-Dutch Port Forum will be the perfect platform for bilateral maritime co-operation and in the inspiring words of Oceanco’s Media & Communications Coordinator Emy Artolli – “We are committed to designing, engineering, and building our yachts in a responsible way; from improving energy usage to running a responsible business and contributing to society”.
Let us hope the Oceans open up!