Internal hyperlinks for navigation

Article - Maritime Industry

The Maritime Industry


Germany is a country that is very much oriented towards foreign trade. A strong and internationally competitive maritime sector is therefore of great importance for the entire economy as it drives Germany’s competitiveness and helps safeguard growth and employment. The business community and policymakers seek to ensure that the maritime industry is structurally strong and that it can harness its full potential.

Estimates place the annual turnover at up to €50 billion and the number of jobs which are directly or indirectly dependent on the maritime industry at up to 400,000. This makes it one of the most important sectors of the German economy. The industry is characterised by its modern, high-tech shipbuilding and shipbuilding supply industries – many of which are well-positioned in the global markets –, its globally leading shipping companies – particularly container shipping companies –, its high-performance port and logistics industries, its innovative marine engineering industry, and its renowned maritime research and training facilities.

Despite difficult global market conditions, the maritime industry remains a key sector for the future of the German economy. It can help us find answers to the important questions of our time such as how we can transition to a sustainable energy supply, mitigate climate change, protect our environment, and ensure a secure supply of resources. Among the most important sectors of the maritime industry are maritime shipping, ports, shipbuilding, the shipbuilding supply industry, marine engineering, offshore wind energy and maritime research and development. The German government seeks to adopt an integrated policy approach that helps safeguard jobs, economic output and training and thus strengthen the German maritime industry as a whole.

Maritime Agenda 2025

Against this background, the Federal Cabinet approved the Maritime Agenda 2025 on 11 January 2017. This strategy, which was developed jointly by several different ministries, provides the Federal Government with a long-term framework that will make it possible to shape the future of the maritime industry in a targeted manner, and strengthen Germany’s role as a maritime hub.

The Maritime Agenda 2025 sets out a wide range of measures to be deployed across nine fields of action of the maritime industry. The government also seeks to work with the business community to draw up a roadmap that describes the priorities of their applied research funding programmes and how the innovation capacity of SMEs – which form the backbone of the maritime industry – is to be strengthened. This is to help companies maintain technology leadership and tap new growth markets. Digitisation is another key focus of the Maritime Agenda 2025. High-speed broadband connections are to be expanded, not least in ports, and flagship projects (e.g. real-time services in navigation) provided with funding.

A special focus will also be placed on sustainability in maritime transport. Here, the Federal Government will provide targeted funding for green fuels and ship propulsion systems. The Maritime Agenda also calls for the development of international environmental standards as this will help to prevent distortions of competition within the industry.

The task of the Federal Government’s maritime coordinator, who has been based in the Economic Affairs Ministry since 2000, is to coordinate all measures for strengthening Germany’s competitiveness in the fields of shipbuilding, marine technology, offshore wind energy, shipping and ports.

In the run-up to the 10th National Maritime Conference, the Federal Government adopted its 5th report on the development and future prospects of Germany’s maritime industry on 8 February 2017. The report describes the current situation in the maritime industry. It also provides an overview of the policies adopted by the Federal Government on maritime shipping and ports, shipbuilding and marine engineering, offshore wind power, and marine research.

Four figures on Germany’s maritime industry


billion euros
Turnover generated by German shipbuilders in 2017

Symbolicon für Dampfer

per cent
Germany’s share of global container shipping capacity (2018)

Symbolicon für Arbeiter

Number of jobs
in Germany that directly or indirectly depend on seaports

> 83,000
Symbolicon für Menschen

Number of employees
that work for the shipbuilding and shipbuilding supply industries

Maritime conferences

The National Maritime Conference – providing a fresh stimulus for the maritime industry

The first National Maritime Conference was held in the year 2000. Since then, this regular conference has become a tried-and-tested forum for dialogue within the maritime industry. Its objective: making Germany’s maritime industry more competitive vis-à-vis the rest of the world.

Some 800 stakeholders from the business sector, trade unions, academia, research, government and the administration will be meeting on 22-23 May 2019 for the 11th National Maritime Conference. Under the motto “Deutschland maritim global - smart - green”, they will be discussing the potential and challenges as Germany aims to maintain the technological lead and international competitiveness of its maritime sector.

In view of the widespread public calls for climate-friendly and environmentally-friendly shipping, the issues of green shipping and the maritime mobility transition are of key importance for the sector. This area offers considerable market potential for Germany’s world-beating industry. With regard to its “global” focus, the National Maritime Conference is to send out a signal for open world trade and a fair multilateral set of rules in times of growing protectionism. The participants will be discussing the main maritime challenges in five forums (1. Shipping, 2. Marine technology, 3. Offshore wind power, 4. Shipbuilding including suppliers and navy, 5. Ports). The results of the work are to feed into the Federal Government’s Maritime Agenda 2025, which was adopted at the beginning of 2017.

Contact at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action

How does the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action support the maritime industry?

Around 95% of the intercontinental trade in goods is conducted by sea. This means that for an export-oriented economy like Germany, having a strong maritime industry is key. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action is employing a wide range of different measures to provide support for the maritime industry.

The business community and policymakers seek to ensure that Germany’s maritime industry is structurally strong and that it can harness its full potential.

2025 maritime research strategy

The Economic Affairs Ministry’s 2025 maritime research strategy is strengthening the maritime sector by providing funding for research and development. The research strategy covers the entire spectrum of ship, production, shipping and maritime technology. This permits cooperation along the entire value chain. In the case of shipbuilding, for example, this ranges from the suppliers to the shipyards and the ship operators. In this way, large parts of the maritime industry throughout Germany benefit from support as they pursue their longer-term goals.

The research strategy consists of two funding measures.

The maritime research programme covers the entire range of technology in the sector. The focus is on research and development, particularly in terms of environmental compatibility and the mobility transition, the use of digital technology, maritime safety and security, and the development of maritime resources.

The line of funding entitled “real-time technology for maritime safety and security” provides targeted support for innovative real-time technologies to boost civilian maritime safety and security.

The funding for maritime research provided by the Economic Affairs Ministry is fostering progress. Breakthroughs in the development of alternative fuels for maritime applications (e.g. methanol), in the maintenance of offshore wind farms, and in efficient manufacture of one-off products are just a few examples. From 2011 to 2017, the Economic Affairs Ministry provided €225 million in funding for 485 maritime R&D projects. In the same period, the entire volume of funding for research amounted to €317 million.

Promoting sustainability in shipping

The Economic Affairs Ministry, the German Mechanical Engineering Industry Association (VDMA) and the German Shipbuilding and Ocean Industries Association presented their joint initiative for a maritime energy transition at the 10th National Maritime Conference. The aim is to provide more targeted funding for the development of technologies at the interface of energy, transport and industry, and to strengthen the dialogue of the maritime stakeholders. In spring 2017, the Economic Affairs Ministry announced the cross-programme funding initiative “Energy transition in transport”, with total funding of €130 million. The focus is on aspects like sector coupling via electricity-based fuels, innovative maritime technologies in the field of offshore wind energy, and an efficient distributed supply of electricity and heat.

Improving German companies’ capacity to export

The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action is providing support for German shipyards so they can offer their customers competitive financing solutions. Fixed-rate financing at the CIRR rate and export credit guarantees from the Federal Government (Hermes guarantees) ensure that German companies can operate on a level playing field.

Dialogue with the maritime industry

In order to ensure that the maritime industry continues to move in the right direction, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action is promoting close dialogue between policymakers and the business sector. The National Master Plan for Maritime Technologies (NMMT) serves as a key tool for coordination and networking.

The funding of research, development and innovation in maritime technologies also forms part of the “High-tech Strategy – Innovations for Germany”, which was adopted by the Federal Cabinet in 2014. Here, the maritime technologies are identified as key enabling technologies, i.e. as driving forces for innovation. Taking this development into account, the Federal Government intends to work with the sector to develop the NMMT, which has so far focused on maritime technology, into an instrument for the entire maritime industry. Accordingly, the NMMT shall in future map the entire spectrum of the maritime industry, including innovative shipbuilding and the offshore supplier industry.

An “analysis of the supply side and needs of the institutions, structures and networks in the maritime sector in the field of research, development and innovation” commissioned by the Economic Affairs Ministry arrived at the finding in September 2016 that potential improvements lie in particular in the field of cross innovation and information on cross-sectoral technology and market developments. Corresponding initiatives are now being pursued by the Federal Government, not least via cross-sectoral research initiatives and programmes, and the establishment of a Lightweighting Initiative Coordination Office by the Economic Affairs Ministry.

Keeping shipping routes safe

Piracy and armed robbery at sea are a massive and extremely serious threat to life, limb and significant assets in maritime transport. In order to help protect the crews, particularly of ships sailing under the German flag, against such attacks, and in order to offer legal certainty to the shipping lines and security firms, a mechanism for the licensing of private-sector security companies was launched in 2013.

Private-sector security firms can apply for this licence from the Federal Office for Economic Affairs and Export Control (BAFA). For more information, please click here (in German).

LeaderSHIP strategy

The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action is continuing to develop its LeaderSHIP dialogue with the shipbuilding industry, which allows all the stakeholders to discuss priorities for research and working methods. The aim is to establish “LeaderSHIP Deutschland” as a powerful body for representatives of shipyards, suppliers, trade unions and policy makers which gives advice on current issues affecting the German shipbuilding industry at regular intervals.

Maritime Conferences

The Maritime Conferences – which are held every two years – are a good opportunity for the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Action to join with all the relevant stakeholders to devise measures that help strengthen Germany’s position as a maritime hub.

Strengthening the maritime industry

The National Masterplan for Maritime Technologies

The National Masterplan for Maritime Technologies (NMMT) is the central instrument of the Federal Government to strengthen the maritime sector in Germany. It is designed to coordinate and interconnect the maritime industry.

The Masterplan aims to pool resources and know-how in a way that allows us to find the right answers to the most important challenges. It is intended in particular to better coordinate maritime instruments on the national level and on the level of the Länder and to specifically address difficult issues as well as to develop concepts together with the actors in the sector. This enables us to make better use of the possibilities offered by the growing maritime markets and to improve the position of the German industry on the global market.

The first version of the NMMT was developed under the leadership of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action and adopted by the Federal Cabinet in August 2011. The Masterplan is an instrument for the Federal Government Maritime Coordinator and at the same time a platform for industry, policy, the Länder, science and maritime associations. The Plan and its further development are an integral part of the 2025 Maritime Agenda.

The Federal Government is interested in strengthening the maritime industry by increasing its capacity for innovation, in maintaining and exploring important markets, providing impetus for climate change mitigation and environmental protection, and in the course of this, securing and creating highly qualified maritime jobs.

The NMMT is shaping the future of the maritime industry by strengthening the innovation capacities of the maritime sector, exploring new market opportunities and improving the business environment for example through political backing and export support. The Masterplan also serves to create networks, standardise, offer education and advanced training and to contribute to an integrated maritime policy.

The Masterplan focusses on international markets. In its current version, the NMMT aims at

  • innovative shipbuilding
  • strong suppliers
  • offshore and marine resources
  • a strong logistics chain
  • environmental technologies and coastal protection
  • fundamentals and knowledge networks and
  • the digitalisation of the value chain.

Fields of action of the National Masterplan

The NMMT defines central strategic fields of actions that are considered to be future technological priorities and links these to concrete actions. It is dynamic, modular and open to development. This means that further measures can be added in future and existing ones can be specified more precisely or marked as completed. A steering committee that meets annually and is headed by the Federal Government Maritime Coordinator is the central body to decide on its policy actions.

Companies participating in the Masterplan, the Federal Government, Federal ministries, the Länder and universities and research institutions provide important impetus to implement the plan. Implementation requires intensive networking and cooperation between all actors.

The current version of the NMMT defines the following technological priorities as being of future importance:

  • renewable energies and offshore wind energy
  • civil maritime security technologies
  • deep-sea mining
  • innovative special shipbuilding system integration, energy efficiency, lightweight construction and high-performance production systems on board
  • low-emission and climate-friendly maritime transport chains: “green shipping”
  • offshore oil and gas
  • technologies for seaports
  • Industry/Maritime 4.0
  • industrial submarine technology
  • ice and polar technology

Structure and organisation

The NMMT is guided by a central steering committee. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action is head of the steering committee, which consists of representatives of the Federal ministries, the Federal Länder and industry associations. The associations include the German Association for Marine Technology (GMT), the German Mechanical Engineering Industry Association (VDMA), the German Mechanical Engineering Industry Association (VDMA), the German Shipbuilding and Ocean Industries Association (VSM), the German Association of Ports (ZDS), the German Port Technology Association (HTG), the German Hydrographic Association (DHyG) and the Foundation Offshore-Windnergie.

The NMMT uses this body to develop and implement joint strategies for maritime technologies. The steering committee adopts updates of the NMMT, agrees on special steering measures and sets priorities for their implementation. Individual working groups with a focus on specific priorities support the NMMT.

Focus on the sector

The current situation of Germany’s maritime industry

More than other sectors, Germany’s maritime industry is closely connected to the global economy and global sea trade. In comparison to other sectors of the economy, this makes the industry particularly vulnerable to global economic changes and fluctuations.

The maritime industry develops and manufactures complex ships and installations for a wide range of applications at sea. The sector comprises shipyards as system integrators as well as numerous skilled craft businesses and service providers which supply components, material and systems. The shipyards and their suppliers in the mechanical and plant construction sector alone employ some 82,000 people in around 500 companies. The sector largely comprises medium-sized companies and exports its high-tech products worldwide. The German maritime industry is the technology leader in many areas and contributes – directly and indirectly – to value creation in Germany.


The situation of the German maritime shipyards further stabilised in 2017. Many companies managed to undertake the structural changes needed to adapt to a changed market environment in a difficult market. After peaking at €18.5 billion in 2016, the volume of orders for civil maritime shipbuilding fell slightly to €17.94 billion in 2017.

Many shipbuilding companies have managed to undertake the structural changes needed to adapt to a changed market environment in a difficult market.

Shipbuilding and offshore supply industry

Suppliers account for roughly 70 to 80% of the value added in the building of a new vessel. Approximately 63,500 employees in around 400 mostly small and medium-sized enterprises in the machinery and plant construction sector generated total sales of €10.6 billion in 2017. Much of the German component supplier industry is a world leader in high-tech products. The aim continues to be to safeguard and build on this competitive advantage by investing in research, development and innovation. There are particularly good prospects for selling green products and technologies.

Merchant fleet

Germany has 2,250 merchant vessels – which represents a market share of around 5% and means that Germany has the world’s fourth-largest merchant fleet (as of 2018). Germany is an international leader when it comes to container vessel capacity, with the country holding approx. 20% of the market share.


As an export-oriented nation, Germany depends heavily on its seaports for generating economic output and creating jobs. An estimated 300,000 jobs depend directly or indirectly on the German seaports. The volume of maritime goods handled was stable in 2017 at approximately 300 million tonnes.

Marine engineering

Marine engineering is a fast-growing sector within the maritime industry. It comprises offshore technology for extracting oil and gas, offshore wind energy, underwater technology, environmental and safety technology, aquaculture and mariculture and mining the seabed for mineral resources. Although the share that German companies have in this market today is rather small, many of these companies have a high level of technical expertise and great potential for innovation.

Further information

Port, symbolic of the maritime industry; Source: Wentzel

Related topics