Ships should communicate in English for safety reasons
European inland navigation has language problems. Unlike international aviation, which uses English as the language of communication and has had plane crashes when people have not been able to speak it properly, inland navigation doesn’t have a rule about using a set language and so accidents continue to happen.
Many inland navigation organisations feel that the common language should be German simply because most inland waters are in German-speaking territory. However, speaking German instead of English with seafaring ships isn’t practical.
As of 1 January 2010, the Dutch Ministry of Transport and Waterways can issue fines to boats who don’t meet language requirements. What those are, nobody knows: learning terms off by heart or being able to chat about the weather? The Dutch Ministry issued a 240 euro fine to a French ship earlier this month for not being able to communicate enough in either English, German or Dutch. Needless to say the captain was really pissed, after 20 years of navigating to the Netherlands without any incidents. He didn’t know about these requirements because he had no problems before. And then other ships were also fined. The Dutch immediately thought that the French would reciprocate, which is not surprising. Never mind communicating on water, apparently the Dutch government isn’t able to communicate with Dutch shippers or European ones properly either.
One of the comments mentioned that it was silly for the Dutch to speak English among themselves if the official language was to be English. Again, aviation does that too. You first clear your business with the tower about where and when you will land, nasty accent and all, and then you can throw in a sentence of local language to show you’re friendly. It doesn’t bother pilots at all, it shouldn’t bother shippers either, eventually.