A very intersting interview with Shipping Deputy Minister to the President of Cyprus, Natasa Pilides, follows:
1. Emissions of sulphur oxides (SOx) are known to be harmful to human health and they contribute to ocean acidification. From 1 January 2020, the limit for sulphur in fuel oil used on board ships operating outside designated emission control areas will be reduced to 0.50% m/m. How ready is Cyprus Shipping to fully comply to this regulation?
The Cyprus Shipping administration is fully prepared to adopt the new requirement, having taken active part in the relevant discussions both at the IMO and at the EU level. The Shipping Deputy Ministry has an open dialogue with the shipowners and shipmanagers operating under its flag and within the Cyprus shipping cluster and provides guidance and information on an ongoing basis proactively, as well as in response to specific requests. The smooth and trouble-free implementation of the new regulations is a top priority for the Shipping Deputy Ministry, which also provides information and guidance on the practical issues which are foreseen to be encountered before and after the implementation date of the mandatory use of compliant fuel. At the same time, the Shipping Deputy Ministry is also focusing on verifying alternate means of emission reduction, which may be selected by the shipping community in lieu of the use of compliant fuel, as provided for in MARPOL /Annex VI.
2. Autonomous and remote-controlled ships are being trialled in some sea areas. Do you believe that the autonomous ship is the ship of the future ?
The autonomous ship will definitely feature strongly in the not-so-distant future of the shipping sector , however the pace at which autonomous vessels will populate the sea and the extent to which they will do so is difficult to predict, and will also be affected by the relevant incoming regulations. Of course, another big question mark is the effect this will have on the seafaring profession, both in terms of the numbers of seafarers required onboard different types of automated vessels and on the skill sets required of such crew members.
The potential cost savings and efficiency opportunities relevant to autonomous vessels are difficult to predict at this stage given the number and extent of uncertainties that still exist, however, I believe it is safe to say that ships will continue to rapidly increase in the level and complexity of technology used and, therefore, in their degree of autonomy
Of course, legal, regulatory and safety issues associated with autonomous ship operations will need to be resolved fairly quickly and proactivelyas we move into the unchartered and untested waters of new technology and new practices.
3. Marine litter presents a huge problem. Plastic materials in all shapes and sizes are omnipresent in our seas and oceans. Do you agree with the European regulations for plastics and/or does Cyprus have any changes to propose for the sake of the planet?
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 in a way that will ensure environmental protection, as well as the sustainability of the sector and the companies operating within it. Cyprus was among the early states which signed MARPOL Annex V and amended the applicable national legislation accordingly, adopting all following amendments on it.
To this end, the Shipping Deputy Ministry provides information and guidance on a regular basis to shipowners, through circulars and technical presentations, in order to ensure and promote consistent and effective implementation of the rules and regulations.
The Shipping Deputy Ministry is in co-ordination with the local maritime cluster, as well as Cyprus flag operators abroad, in an ongoing effort to continuously educate seafarers on the regulatory provisions for the prevention of marine pollution from plastic or other pollutant sorts. MARPOL provisions are included in all seafarers’ training programmes monitored by the Shipping Deputy Ministry, and surveyors of Cyprus ships are monitoring their performance and compliance.
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. One such project is the Cyprus Marine and Maritime Institute which has secured funding of more than €40 million from the Cyprus government, the EU and the Cyprus shipping industry. 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.
4. About two months after the successful event of Maritime Cyprus 2019 what actions will you take in order to attract more maritime executives in 2021?
Maritime Cyprus 2019 was a milestone conference as it celebrated 30 years since the organisation of the first Maritime Cyprus conference back in 1989, and it was also the first time that the event was organised by the newly-established Shipping Deputy Ministry. A lot of enthusiasm and energy went into organising the conference, with particular focus on the quality, diversity and relevance of the content and speakers. Our panels brought together panelists from all over the world and from different disciplines in shipping, and included prominent ship owners from Europe and Asia, shipping executives, journalists and analysts, shipping finance experts, port state and flag state experts and the Presidents of many renowned shipping organisations.
Over 1000 delegates took part in the conference and, fortunately, provided us with excellent feedback regarding the relevance and quality of the event, as well as the attention to detail and opportunities for networking and entertainment.
We believe that Maritime Cyprus has made use of a winning formula which has gained us a lot of supporters through the years. We will continue to plan the conference based on what we think are the most interesting and relevant topics and speakers in the shipping world, while at the same time providing quality opportunities for networking and entertainment on the margins of the main conference. We will also continue to organise a specific, open session for Young Maritime Executives, as well as a free-of-charge technical seminar for the wider, local maritime industry discussing technical issues in an in-depth, focused workshop format.
5. Maritime training is a very crucial issue. What are the actions Cyprus implements on this topic and what are the plans for the future?
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 opportunity. Raising awareness is vital to attracting new talent for the long-term prosperity of the sector. This is why the Shipping Deputy Ministry is involved in a number of awareness campaigns for children, teenagers and young adults, including career fairs, regular visits to schools all over the country and programmes like “Adopt a Ship” running in elementary schools for even the youngest children to understand life onboard a vessel. At the same time, we are working with maritime academies to improve and expand their offering, including the provision of scholarships, the introduction of new programmes and the effective incorporation of virtual and e-learning within the maritime-related modules.
Other measures recently taken to encourage blue careers include:
• Increasing the number of positions allocated to the Hellenic Navy’s Technical Maritime Academy to 40 per year;
• Encouraging the set-up and smooth operation of three maritime academies in Cyprus for captains and marine engineers;
• Changes to the legislation to improve the professional advancement of new merchant navy officers;
• Subsidizing the 12 months of practical training on board a vessel with up to 7,200 euros for each cadett;
• This subsidy has recently been extended and now applies not only to Cypriot students but for all students from the EU;
• Awarding scholarships of 45,000 euros each year to students of Cyprus merchant marine academies;
• As of September 2019, a maritime direction has also been introduced in secondary education and has proven quite popular with students here in Cyprus.
6. Can you briefly explain the taxation system for a Shipping company in Cyprus? Why should a Shipping company move its premises in Limassol?
The Cyprus Tonnage Tax System (TTS), the first open registry TTS to have been approved by the European Commission as compatible with the Guidelines on State Aid to Maritime Transport back in 2010, provides a stable fiscal environment for Cyprus Shipping in long term.
It is very important that the Cyprus TTS allows qualifying owners, charterers and ship managers alike to enter the system (subject to meeting the relevant conditions) and to pay tax based on the net tonnage of the qualifying ships they own, charter or manage. Steps are being taken to extend the Cyprus TTS for another 10 years, a process which is very near its completion and is expected to be finalized before the end of 2019.
Nevertheless, the Cyprus TTS is by no means the only competitive advantage that Cyprus offers. The expertise and know-how available in Cyprus across the full spectrum of shipping and shipping-related activities ensures that top quality services are provided on a 24/7 basis by the public sector and the private sector alike. The high availability of top quality, specialised human talent is also an important consideration for shipping companies choosing to set-up and scale in Cyprus.
Our shipping administration is very efficient and responsive, offering to the companies professional 24/7 services. Our organisational structure has recently been adjusted in order to increase the functionality, effectiveness and flexibility of the Deputy Ministry. We have established an one-stop centre to assist our client ship owners and shipping companies efficiently and promptly, we have digitized our records and enhanced our online services and we have signed revised agreements with Recognised Organisations.
7. You are a young woman in a very important position. How important is the role of women in Shipping? Do you believe that they make the difference?
Shipping is an exciting industry providing opportunities to companies and their teams to explore and push boundaries across the full blue growth spectrum. I believe that the sector is ready to embrace diversity to a much greater extent than it had done in the past and this is starting to show in the statistics concerning onshore employment and (to a lesser extent) in the number of female seafarers and cadets. It is very important for governments and institutions like the EU and the IMO to encourage this progress and it is also in the private sector’s interest to capitalise further on women as a very important, very valuable resource for further growth and development, for the introduction of new perspectives and approaches, and for the encouragement and development of creativity and innovation. I believe that the theme of Women Empowerment selected by the IMO for 2019 brought this important matter to the fore and encouraged companies and shipping executives to take further and more proactive action to ensure equal opportunity for men and women in the shipping sector. Organisations such as WISTA, which recently acquired Consultative status at the IMO, are also contributing significantly to the efforts for embracing diversity and ensuring equality.
8. New era is coming for shipping in terms of technologies. How ready is Cyprus for blockchain, big data, and cybersecurity?
A number of initiatives are currently in progress both for the automation of the Deputy Ministry’s services as well as for the encouragement of innovation in the private sector. These include the digitization of Deputy Ministry records, the relaunch of our user-friendly, client-focused website, the electronic verification of certificates, the acceptance of electronic certificates from RO’s and an automated seafarers’ administration system. We are also in the process of automating our ship registration process and our port state control system.
As a strong supporter of the Cyprus Marine and Maritime Institute mentioned above, and a number of additional EU-funded projects and private initiatives, the Shipping Deputy Ministry is very active in encouraging innovation in the marine and maritime sector and the embedding of new technologies in shipping companies’ operations.
9. What are your plans for the future in terms of sustainability and maritime security in Shipping?
The Shipping Deputy Ministry is extremely active in the ongoing discussions at both the EU level and at the IMO regarding both maritime security and environmental protection and sustainability. With regards to the latter, Cyprus has submitted a number of papers to the IMO in the last two years which have formed part of the constructive open dialogue leading to the adoption and implementation of the Initial Strategy for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from ships. Cyprus commits to continuing its active and positive contribution at all international maritime fora in order to ensure the development of effective, clear and pragmatic policies for the effective and safe use of technology to increase efficiency and ensure environmental protection.