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Offshore renewables: a fresh way for governments to get behind maritime jobs

17 June 2024

Offshore wind turbines are the fastest-growing source of electricity production in the UK and Netherlands. Rob Coston looks at how government policies have helped to drive this expansion into offshore renewables, and what the new UK government's plans might mean for Nautilus members' jobs

The decline of industries such as fishing/fish processing, the unreliability of tourism work, and in some cases the geographical isolation of coastal towns have combined to make the UK's coastal communities among the nation's poorest.

The Conservative government noticed this and included coastal communities in its Levelling Up agenda, but the fine words do not seem to have been followed up with actions. In 2023 the House of Lords looked into whether progress had been made on this issue since a 2019 report by the Select Committee on Regenerating Seaside Towns and Communities. The findings were depressing, with Lord Bassam of Brighton, former chair of the Select Committee, commenting: 'Four years on from our original report we have seen little progress in seaside towns and communities and their endemic problems continue to persist.'

Meanwhile, the maritime industry is facing a recruitment crisis, and policies on climate change are driving the uptake of offshore wind as an energy source. Maritime jobs have been proposed as a solution to poverty in coastal communities before, so following the UK general election in July 2024, could this actually work?

Past promises

UK governments over recent decades have promised to invest in the country's offshore green energy capacity.

There have been positive results, with renewable energy company Ørsted crediting the Offshore Wind Sector Deal agreed between industry and the UK government with creating a stable regulatory regime that enabled investment, leading to better innovation. Indeed, the UK is still the global leader in offshore wind energy, with more capacity installed than any other country – enough to power more than 7.5 million homes.

This is a (sadly) rare industrial success story for the UK in the 21st century and worth celebrating. According to a 2023 report by the UK's Offshore Wind Industry Council, more than 32,000 people are currently employed in the UK offshore wind sector, 4% more than the end of 2021. This is expected to rise to over 100,000 by 2030, since the UK has the second largest global pipeline of offshore wind projects at all stages of development at nearly 100GW – more than six times the current capacity. Grimsby in particular is cited as seeing regeneration benefits from the industry, and hundreds of jobs are promised for Aberdeenshire after the approval of the world's largest offshore wind farm at Peterhead, which is also Europe's first commercial-scale floating wind project.

However, while this is all very positive, in the past the growth in offshore wind has not always resulted in better jobs for maritime professionals. Those seafarers used to contracts onboard workboats in the oil and gas sector have been unenthusiastic about the lower pay offered on contracts for offshore green energy.

The main parties in this year's general election – Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats –all put forward proposals for expanding the UK's offshore renewables capacity.


Do I need training?

Many Nautilus members will already be qualified for the offshore wind sector. Standard skills include communications, navigation and vessel handling, berthing, and safe personnel transfers. One major difference is that small crews of two-three are the norm on many vessels, so the ability to take on a range of tasks from maintenance to IT skills – even preparing meals – will be valuable.

As well as passing your seafarer medical checks, qualifications and certifications required include STCW basic safety courses, certificates for the operation of equipment (e.g. loader cranes), navigational watch certificates including statutory sea time, etc.


A major economic barrier to UK nationals who would like to succeed in the industry has been imported labour – workers who are able to accept lower pay and weaker terms and conditions than those based in the UK with its higher cost of living.

This approach was exacerbated by the Conservative government's Offshore Wind Workers Concession (OWWC), a supposedly temporary measure that allowed companies to bypass visa rules and bring in cheap labour. The industry successfully lobbied to retain the OWWC several times, and this meant years in which they were less willing to invest in training new UK workers. The OWWC even led companies to replace existing UK-based contract workers, including Nautilus members, with others from abroad.

Offshore renewables in the Netherlands

In the Netherlands, the government has in recent years set out an ambitious Offshore Wind Energy Road Map, including billions of euros of investment. As well as funding the growth in the industry, the Road Map has achieved a world-first in Hollandse Kust (zuid) wind farm zone, which boasts the first subsidy-free operational wind farms in the world.

Although coastal communities in the Netherlands do not have the same problems as those in the UK, this still represents a significant opportunity for seafarers, especially those already working in the Dutch dredging sector. As a result, Nautilus set out to ensure that the plans would result in quality local employment opportunities, investment in local communities, and the building of lasting skills.

In 2022, the Dutch government designated three new areas in the North Sea (Nederwiek, Lagelander and Doordewind) and confirmed two previously designated areas (the northern part of IJmuiden Ver and the southern part of Hollandse Kust West) for the development of offshore wind farms with a combined capacity of 10.7 GW. The previous goal to achieve 21 GW of offshore wind capacity by the end of 2031 has just been postponed by one year, now targeting 2032.

A Nautilus campaign helped to bring about a final end to the OWWC, which meant that companies would need to go through the usual, more stringent and expensive, visa process to recruit workers from abroad – making it more sensible for companies to hire locally.

However, it is difficult to establish the impact the end of the OWWC has actually had on seafarers trying to find employment , or on those already employed, as no figures were collected by the government or industry beforehand and no official statistics are available for the present time. The Union would appreciate any feedback from members about their own experiences since the concession finally finished on 30 April 2023.


The main parties in this year's general election – Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats –all put forward proposals for expanding the UK's offshore renewables capacity.


In the run-up to the election, Conservative prime minister Rishi Sunak attacked 'unaffordable eco-zealotry', instead focusing on the need for energy security in an uncertain world rather than net zero commitments. The party's manifesto was condemned by industry and environmental groups for watering down previous commitments and for its lack of proposals on fostering investment and green industrial growth.

To achieve Mr Sunak's goal of making the UK a net energy exporter, however, the Conservative manifesto did propose several measures that could potentially benefit seafarers in offshore work, including reviving a controversial plan to pass legislation requiring annual oil and gas drilling licensing rounds, delivering two new carbon capture hubs, and trebling the country's offshore wind capacity.

Liberal Democrats

This smaller party, last seen in power during the coalition government of 2010-2015 made commitments that were welcomed by trade bodies the Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology and Offshore Energies UK. However, there is no mention at all of offshore energy in the Liberal Democrat manifesto.

Committing to net zero by 2045 at the latest, the party said it would introduce a target of 90% of the UK's electricity generated from renewables by 2030. It proposed various incentives for businesses and for innovation, putting green investment at the heart of industrial strategy, and also suggested investing in education and training to equip people with the skills needed for the low-carbon economy

It claimed it would 'take the bold, urgent action needed to tackle climate change, cut energy bills and create hundreds of thousands of secure, well-paid new jobs.'


In a detailed energy policy document updated before the election, the Labour Party promised to make Britain a 'clean energy superpower' with cheaper, zero carbon electricity by 2030, accelerating to net zero. Labour's plans specifically referenced the need for 'rebuilding the strength of our industrial heartlands and coastal communities, creating hundreds of thousands of good jobs'.

The document added: 'Offshore wind will drive investment in our ports, in places like the Humber, the Forth and Tay, Southampton, East Anglia and Belfast.'

Flagship schemes included establishing GB Energy – a publicly-owned body dedicated to clean energy generation – and a National Wealth Fund, plus plans to ensure that power is owned by UK companies and communities rather than foreign investors. Labour promised to quadruple offshore wind power generation, including up to 5GW from floating offshore wind, by 2030, and remove red tape that slows the planning of new green infrastructure projects including for offshore.

Scotland in particular was targeted. It was promised 50,000 clean power jobs by 2030, the headquarters of GB Energy, investment through the National Wealth Fund in upgrading Scottish ports for the deployment of for the decommissioning market, and money for the net zero industrial cluster at Grangemouth, supporting the linked carbon capture and storage project in the North East.

In addition, a key difference in the Labour plan is that it addressed some of the issues faced by workers as well as looking at the green energy issue only through the lenses of industry growth and climate change. It made reference to working with unions to ensure a Just Transition, in which workers (such as those in oil and gas) are not left behind – a key concern for Nautilus International.

A new era?

While all parties seized upon the success of the UK's offshore wind industry as part of their plans for the economy, not all made commitments to workers and especially to seafarers. Nautilus will continue to press MPs of all parties and government ministers to ensure that maritime professionals are able to access the benefits of working in a growing industry.

What are your experiences with offshore wind?

Nautilus is keen to hear from members about their good or bad experiences working or seeking employment in the offshore renewables sector.

We'd especially like to hear from you about anything that has happened since the end of the Offshore Wind Workers' Concession on 30 April 2023 – has it been easier to find work since then, or are employers finding other ways to bring in cheap labour?

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