Foto: Guido Pijper

Rotterdam maritime sector on track with AI

October 13, 2021

Marnix Krikke has been Chairman of the working group Port and Maritime of the NLAI Coalition since this summer. The working group has the ambition to accelerate the datafication and use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology over the next five years. Outlined in a positon paper “Koersen op AI” (Heading for AI). Marnix Krikke talks about the maritime sector’s AI ambitions and the fact that this is no longer just a dream in Rotterdam.

The Netherlands, and more specifically the maritime capital of Rotterdam, is a global leader in the development of new technologies and applications. The sector must go through a digital transition to maintain its innovative strength and to ensure it doesn't fall behind other countries and regions. AI can support this process. AI refers to self-learning systems which display intelligent behaviour by analysing their environment and independently making decisions.

Marnix Krikke - Chairman of the working group Port and Maritime

Heading for AI

Marnix Krikke has a clear vision as the Chairman of the working group Port and Maritime. Krikke: “We want this strategy to be used for the implementation of subsidy schemes for the maritime sector. The coalition also offers a network for companies and research organisations to jointly start up and implement research and development projects, based on the strategy. This will involve us working together with companies from other sectors, like logistics and energy.”

Krikke states that AI technology is essential for ensuring all information and handling of the physical flow of goods in the Port of Rotterdam can be dealt with completely digitally before 2030. Working towards smart - possibly autonomous - logistics transport solutions in the Port of Rotterdam and its hinterland, significant improvements can be realized in efficiency, energy consumption, air quality and, for example, environmental noise.

AI can certainly also be a valuable addition to shipbuilding. Krikke: “We will be making digital twins of the ship and the production process in the future, while designing and building a physical ship.” A digital twin is a working, virtual model of an entire product, process, or service, which is highly accurate, both in the representation of a system and in relation to the environment in which the system operates. Krikke is of the opinion that these twin models will allow for a much more effective collaboration between chain companies for the realisation of targeted designs and efficient production processes.

AI can be used in various ways in the maritime sector, first to build more efficiently. But also to make sailing more efficient by supporting the crew with intelligent systems. Krikke also feels it’s important for all companies in logistics and transport to exchange information more easily with the help of AI. In addition, AI offers the technology to safely be able to do the same amount of work with fewer people. Building ships with AI has three major advantages, according to Krikke: shortening lead times, achieving higher levels of productivity with the same number of people, while maintaining quality and minimising incorrect decisions. Some shipbuilding projects suffer delays because the linking of design and construction doesn’t run smoothly. This can be reduced with the use of AI. Moreover there is a major shortage of qualified technical personnel in the maritime sector.

AI finds its way

There are many leading companies in the Rotterdam area which are already pioneering with AI. Including the Aquadrone, which cleans up plastic. The WasteShark collects plastic in shallow waters before the litter ends up in seas and oceans. The device is operated from the quay. The WasteShark was built on the RDM site. Another example where AI is effectively used is Kotug’s remote-controlled tugboat, the Rotortug. The ship sails safely and partly autonomously using this technology. Kotug uses its Rotterdam simulator to conduct further unmanned sailing tests. The real-time sensor technology allows for the captain to be visually, remotely supported with realising a safe execution. Unmanned shipping is now getting closer both from a commercial and technical perspective, combined with drone technology to connect the tow line.

The Dutch government recognises the importance of AI and allocated an amount of 276 million euros from the National Growth Fund to the development of AI in April this year. Krikke: “This fund is allowing the Netherlands to catch up with other regions where AI is concerned. However, we haven’t quite reached France’s and Germany’s level just yet.”

The Rotterdam Port Authority and the Municipality of Rotterdam have ambitious plans for applying AI in the maritime sector. They feel AI shouldn’t just lead to an improvement in efficiency in ship designs, production processes and logistics processes. Realising social goals are of vital importance. Such as reducing Co2 reduction and other harmful emissions and improving air quality in the City and the Port.


Krikke has identified two major challenges: “The habits in the sector and legislation and regulations won’t just allow for intelligent systems to take over human tasks. Also, the human factor can become quite challenging too. Current jobs will be different in the future.

Routine work will be done by computers, but even some of the decision-making will partly be taken off people’s hands by systems.” Young people won’t have any problems with these types of changes, but not everybody. It requires training and adaptability during a career.

Krikke is of the opinion that we’re now heading into the working group’s most important phase: ‘Setting up projects with companies in the sector, the knowledge institutes and the ports in order to make optimal use of the available technology.’