Inland shipping

Containers in the Harbour of Rotterdam
Together with the other Northern European countries, the Netherlands is a member of a larger waterway network of approximately 25,000 km in length. The total size of the European inland waterway shipping is more than 400 million tons of cargo, which in simple language means that the total weight of the products that are transported by inland waterway shipping is 400 million tons. A great deal of these products is accounted for by ores and solid or liquid fuels. The ores and fuels are used in the industrial areas of Belgium and Germany (Ruhr area). Some examples of ships that are used are tugboats, dredgers, and supply ships.

Shipping is the general term given for navigation on the sea (ocean shipping) or on the inland waterways (inland shipping). The extensive network of inland waterways in the Netherlands is ideal for inland shipping. Besides the big rivers (the Rhine, Meuse, and Scheldt) and the canals, the Netherlands has a intricate network of smaller waterways. The total length of all the Dutch rivers is 850 km, but this is supplemented by 3750 km of channels and another 450 km of waterways in the IJsselmeer and the Wadden Sea.

Inland shipping is very important for the processing of goods that enter the Netherlands. More than 35 percent of the goods that enter and leave the Netherlands are shipped by means of inland shipping. In total, this equates to 1 million containers every year, totaling 9 million tons – i.e. 9000 kg per container. Except for the ordinary inland waterway goods, such as fodder, petrol, sand and gravel, today only the more expensive goods are shipped (e.g., electronic equipment, cars and even large trucks). The major trading partner is Germany. When the Rhine-Main channel was opened in 1993, the connection between the Dutch ports and the Hinterland was once again improved. Of all international transport between the Netherlands and its neighbors, almost two thirds is via water. In other countries, aviation is normally the dominant means of interstate transport.

Competition on the Rhine today: the number of inland waterway navigation companies is decreasing, while the size of the remaining enterprises is increasing. Moreover, companies today have more numerous and larger fleets than in the past. With regards to the Rhine, almost 10,000 ships (with a combined weight of more than 10 million tons) navigate the river each year. This fleet of 10,000 ships consisted of 6,000 motor cargo ships, 1,700 cargo push tugs, 250 cargo tugboats, 1,000 motor tankers, 1000 tanker push tugs, and 125 other ships. Only one third of the ships are Dutch in origin; however, it may be interesting to note that Dutch ships carry almost half of the total freight.