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Natasa Pilides – The “First Lady” of Cyprus Shipping – A 360o interview

Natasa Pilides is the first Shipping Deputy Minister and for the last 20 months she has done quite a lot to promote Cyprus as an attractive destination for ship owners, ship managers and other shipping related companies. Let’s get to know her!

1. Let’s start with the woman behind the name. How would you describe yourself in 5 words?

Positive, practical, disciplined, adaptable and (I hope) adventurous.

2. Apart from Shipping what else do you enjoy in life?

Reading fiction, exercising and spending time with my daughter.

3. What is your recipe for success?

Discipline, hard work and calculated risk. I believe there are times in all our lives when we need to make some brave or difficult decisions, which require us to move outside our comfort zone. Stepping out of one’s comfort zone is initially difficult, but (like everything else) it becomes much easier with practice.

4. How did you choose to engage in shipping, especially in such a man’s world?

I would never have been deterred by the preconception that a sector is a “man’s world” in my decision to get involved in it. The only way in which such norms and perceptions can change is if women’s involvement grows both in numbers and also in the extent of their participation in decision-making. People should be judged on the basis of their competence and not their gender or ethnic background.

I decided to get involved in shipping because I consider it a very exciting, multi-faceted industry which is full of potential and covers a range of activities. For me, it is a joy to be involved in such a diverse industry and to work with people with a variety of backgrounds and impressive skill-sets.

Having served as the backbone of international trade for so long, shipping is facing the challenge of having to evolve very quickly in order to maintain this position. To do this, the sector needs to embrace diversity, innovation and technology in order to efficiently cope with increasing regulation in the areas of safety, security, governance and environmental protection. I believe the sector is ready for these changes and has been responding increasingly positively to the complex challenges it faces. b

Shipping may be regarded as a male-dominated industry, however it is certainly important to recognise the progress made in recent years at the local level, regional and international level, with the support of the EU and the IMO. In Cyprus, organisations such as WISTA and the Cyprus Shipping Chamber are very active in this respect, together with the government which organises and/ or participates in many awareness campaigns, visits to schools, career fairs, and offers financial support to students pursuing maritime careers in the form of scholarships and funding of on-board training.

5. You extensively use social media, do you think the conservative shipping industry is mature enough to follow you on Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin?

As I mentioned earlier, I believe the sector is ready to embrace change and, as such, it is becoming increasingly active on social media platforms and in the use of other online tools, while online news platforms are also growing in their importance and following.

6. Since the establishment of the Shipping Deputy Ministry what are according to your opinion the main achievements?

The mission of the Shipping Deputy Ministry is to grow the Cyprus maritime cluster in a way that benefits both the economy and also the community’s maritime identity, knowhow and contribution to innovation. Since the creation of the Shipping Deputy Ministry in 2018, a number of initiatives have been completed which are part of our overall National Maritime Strategy. In particular these include:

  • The complete reorganisation of the Deputy Ministry’s structure based on best practices;
    • A comprehensive promotional strategy including an intense promotional programme, a digital marketing strategy and the complete rebranding of the Cyprus maritime brand;
    • The relaunch of the Deputy Ministry’s website and addition of online services including electronic verification of certificates;
    • Digitisation of the Deputy Ministry’s records;
    • Full implementation and enhancement of a 24-hour service system;
    • An updated ship registration policy which offers flexibility while ensuring quality;
    • An updated and simplified pricing policy for the Cyprus Ship Registry, which includes the abolition of initial registration fees for ocean-going vessels;
    • Reinforcement of safety and quality procedures including signature of new agreements with Recognised Organisations;
    • ISO certification of our flag-state procedures;
    • In the area of maritime education, in recent years 3 maritime academies have been set up under the guidance and supervision of the Shipping Deputy Ministry, while a maritime direction has also been introduced in selected secondary schools as of this academic year;
    • In the area of innovation, the Cyprus Marine and Maritime Institute has recently secured funding of almost €50 million from the EU, the Cyprus government and the private sector, for the set up of a research and innovation centre of excellence in marine and maritime technology. The centre aims to play a role as a creator of innovative solutions to serve not only the Cyprus market, but the regional and global markets.

So far, our policies have yielded positive results:

  • The revenues from Ship-management companies in 2018 reached €1.034 billion, compared to €948 million in 2017, recording an increase of 9%.
  • The gross tonnage of the Cyprus Ship Register has increased to almost 24.5 million gross tons, the highest figure recorded since the introduction of our tonnage tax system back in 2010.
  • Since the creation of the Deputy Ministry, the number of shipping companies under the tonnage tax system has increased from 168 to 220.
  • We have also had an increase in the companies operating in the wider maritime sector, which now offers a full range of services from ship ownership and ship management, to marine technology and telecommunications, bunkering, ship repairs, shipping insurance, ship brokerage, shipping finance and specialised accounting and legal services.

7. What are, according to you, the key factors for your ministry to continue and further develop a long-term shipping sector and minimise the damage for the Cyprus Flag through the Turkish embargo?

Our success lies in the quality of our services, the expertise of our team, the availability of technical support on a 24/7 basis and above all the strong will to deal with any difficulties in a highly competitive environment and navigate Cyprus shipping to a new era.

The Turkish embargo is undoubtedly the biggest challenge that the Cyprus flag is facing. The illegal and discriminatory restrictive measures imposed by Turkey on ships flying the Cyprus flag or managed by Cyprus shipping companies violate the freedom of navigation, the freedom of trade and the freedom to access to ports and harbours. Our efforts to lift the Turkish embargo are continuous, and will be intensified both at the political level and at the technocratic level in the context of the efforts being made for the recommencement of the peace talks hopefully in the autumn of 2019.

Beyond our continuous efforts to remove the illegal restrictions imposed by Turkey, we seek to sustain and promote Cyprus’s attractiveness and competitiveness as an international shipping Centre and as a quality Registry in every aspect.

8. In one of our recent articles it was mentioned that what we think about the ocean plastic problem is wrong and that most of the trash is dumped from ships and not from land. If this is the case, what measures will your ministry take for the vessels with Cyprus Flag?

Our objective as a flag state and a port state is to ensure that current and upcoming regulations can, and will be, implemented as seamlessly as possible and in a way that will ensure the sustainability of the sector and the companies operating within it.

To this end, the Shipping Deputy Ministry provides information and guidance on a regular basis to the shipowners, through circulars and technical presentations, in order to ensure and promote consistent and effective implementation of the rules and regulations.

Beyond the implementation of applicable regulations, the Shipping Deputy Ministry is strongly committed to adopting a proactive approach in international policy formulation. Cyprus has been extremely active in discussions around environmental regulation both at EU level and at the level of the IMO, where the country has been a Council member since 1987. Through this dynamic participation and constructive contribution to the work of the IMO and the EU, we aim to ensure the development of a uniform and enforceable regulatory framework, enabling the swift and effective implementation of regulations.

Various private projects have the full support of the Shipping Deputy Ministry, such as innovation and marine technology programmes funded by the Cyprus government and the EU. We also offer our support to all innovative companies operating within our cluster, including companies producing environmental solutions such as ballast water management systems and the first ever academy worldwide for training on ballast water management.

Moreover, Cyprus together with another 4 EU Member States (Greece, Italy, Croatia and Slovenia), joined forces in the framework of Poseidon Med II in order to complete 8 activities that laid the foundations for a feasible and sustainable operating network for the supply, storage, distribution and bunkering of LNG fuel aiming in reducing sulphur emissions.

9. The key drivers of the Cyprus Shipping industry are the Ship Management / Ship Owning and Shipping related companies. Do you think shipping can do more for the Cyprus economy as what it does now and in which way?

Through the implementation of our newly developed strategy, we continue to encourage further growth of our fleet, which now encompasses over 1,100 oceangoing vessels with a total gross tonnage exceeding 24.4 million. We have the third largest fleet within the European Union, with 12% of the total fleet of the 28 EU member states.

At the same time, we continue to cement our position a leading maritime centre, with over 3,500 vessels and a total net tonnage of around 80 million managed from Cyprus. This represents about 20% of the world’s third-party managed fleet and 4.5% of the world fleet.

In the meantime, the cluster is certainly expanding very quickly beyond the core services of ship ownership and ship management, with companies offering technological solutions for the maritime community, telecommunications services, bunkering services, provision of equipment, electronics, as well as brokerage and insurance services, specialized professional services and quality maritime training both in innovative online formats and in classroom format at the Cyprus maritime academies. We also have some P & I Clubs established or in the process of setting up presence in Cyprus, an important addition to the cluster.

As a government, we will continue to develop our strong maritime infrastructure through the construction of a number of marinas around the country and the development of our ports. We will also continue our intense promotional programme to familiarise shipping companies abroad with the unique competitive advantages Cyprus has to offer, while we will also continue to enhance the competitive framework here in Cyprus to ensure our cluster continues to grow both in size and also in the breadth and quality of services offered by the private sector and the public sector alike.

10. Although Cyprus is an island, we never considered ourselves as a maritime nation and only few Cypriots went to the ships for work. What are the plans of your ministry to further promote the “Seafarer’s” job? Will there be any incentives from the Cyprus government to promote the profession?

A career in shipping can be one of the most exciting and fulfilling paths a young person can take. This is the message we want to get out there – that this is an exciting and stimulating sector, full of diversity and progress. Raising awareness of this is vital to the long-term prosperity of the sector. This is why the Shipping Deputy Ministry is focusing on raising awareness regarding the benefits of ‘blue careers’. We are making regular visits to schools all over the country and we take part in programmes like “Adopt a Ship” for even the youngest children understand the exciting opportunities available to them. Recently, we introduced a maritime direction in selected secondary schools in Cyprus and we also expanded the grants available to students in Cyprus maritime academies for their experience onboard a vessel. At the same time, we are working with the maritime academies to improve and expand their offering. As mentioned earlier, the Shipping Deputy Ministry provides scholarships, as well as up to €7,200 per student for the onboard training of EU students training at the Cyprus maritime academies.

11. Now that the Maritime Cyprus 2019 Conference is over can you reflect on where you feel you could do better and what needs to change for the next MarCy?

The feedback we got for Maritime Cyprus 2019 from participants from both Cyprus and abroad was very positive indeed. We are extremely pleased that 1000 delegates from all over the world joined us for MarCy 2019 and we are proud of the positive feedback they gave us. We are also very proud of the truly amazing line-up we had on all 3 days of the conference, including the Secretary General of the IMO, representatives of the EU, the USCG and AMSA, a large number shipowners from Europe and Asia and world class presenters and maritime experts. This year’s conference also included an extra day during which a specialised, technical seminar took place, which was very well-received by the local shipping community and the foreign delegates alike.

Of course, there is always room for improvement and we feel that we can build on what is already a winning formula and an interesting and exciting format to create an even better conference in 2021. We will also continue to run our hugely popular Young Executives’ session which gives young people engaged in the shipping industry the opportunity to voice their views on the future of the sector and to make concrete suggestions regarding the strategy and future initiatives undertaken by the Shipping Deputy Ministry in collaboration with the private sector.

12. And last question. You are a newcomer in Cyprus Shipping. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us and our readers?

It’s true that I’ve only been in this position for 20 months, which is a relatively brief period of time, but it feels like a lot longer when I think back on everything we’ve done since the Deputy Ministry was set up!

All I want to say in closing is that I feel truly privileged and fortunate to be involved in such an amazing sector, which has quietly but steadily played a leading role in supporting the Cyprus economy for decades now. The talent and knowhow in our local industry is astounding, while the collaboration between the private sector and the public sector is unique. Our relationship with the EU and the IMO is also the result of years of active participation and contribution, something of which we are very proud and hope to enhance even further in the future. For all these reasons, I would encourage anyone considering a career in shipping to pursue it without hesitation.

Interview by Stella Violari