DISCOVER Magazine #7

Meeting a tugspotter

Published in category: Harbour & Terminal

Jan Oosterboer has been a keen amateur photographer of maritime traffic for more than a decade. Living in the heart of the Rotterdam harbor area, his ‘regular patch’ includes the surrounding terminals of the Europort, Maasvlakte and Botlek.

“It all started some 12 years ago,” begins Mr Oosterboer, a man who cycles regularly, camera securely packed in his panniers, along the New Waterway and the Caland Canal in the Port of Rotterdam. For a maritime enthusiast, there is probably no better place to take photos since the Port of Rotterdam is one of the busiest harbour areas in the world. Whether it is the largest container vessels, passing tankers, unloading bulk carriers, visiting cruise vessels or even sea-trialling superyachts, there is almost always something of interest going on. In recent years, the formation of Maasvlakte 1 and 2 has only increased the amount of activity.

Getting close to the action

Mr Oosterboer pursues his ‘ship-watching’ hobby up to five times a week; using various Rotterdam-based Facebook groups and cruise company schedules for up-to-date information and tips. “And I can also see exactly what’s going on with the Marine Traffic app on my mobile phone. That tells me what vessels are in the area,” he says. “But, when taking photos, my preference is for tugs, supply vessels and special towage operations.”


Knowing the area like the back of his hand, he knows the ins and outs of the workings of the Rotterdam harbour area. The Caland Canal, in particular, is a notable location he notes. “This is where Damen performs the bollard pull testing of its newbuild tugs. That is always a very interesting sight to see.” As a long-term observer, he has seen how the bollard pull of tugs has become more powerful over the years. “Although not everyone who works on a tug boat is happy with the fact that so much towing is done from the bow. It has meant that ships’ movements have become less in recent times.”

Public interest

“In the beginning I asked other photographers for more information about what they did with their photos. Since then I have come into contact with various tug crews and I have even been invited on board during a tow transport.” As the years passed, his enthusiasm for maritime photography grew – as did public interest in his photos. “More and more people started asking for my photos, so I decided to set up a mailing list. This consists of around 130 people from around the world who I send my photos to. Furthermore, some of my photos have been published in the maritime press and I provide regular input for Piet Sinke’s daily Newsclippings and the website”


Hosting an average of between 3,000 and 3,500 unique visitors per day, the website has grown considerably since it started 14 years ago. “The website now includes the possibility for visitors to place their own items – also directly via their mobile phones,” says Alain Dooms from “This gives us the potential to post very up-to-date news.” What started as a website has expanded further into various social media platforms: “Everything that we place on the website is linked to our social media. We have a big Facebook following and Twitter and LinkedIn are growing especially fast.”

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