When was the Marshall Islands office established, and how many Greek-owned or Greek–managed ships do you have under your flag?
The Piraeus office was established in 1972 and has a long history in the shipping and registry related business. By 1990, the office began the registration of vessels in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. My father, Captain Costas Xenakoudis who joined the Registry in 1994, alongside Captain John Giannopoulos were responsible for the day-to-day activities. My father, a former sea Captain, was actively engaged in the certification and documentation of seafarers, as well as inspection of vessels calling in Greece, and helped to build those activities in the Piraeus office. The RMI’s presence in Greece has grown considerably over the years. International Registries, Inc. and its affiliates (IRI) provides administrative and technical support to the RMI Maritime and Corporate Registries. IRI’s office in Piraeus is the Registry’s second largest office in world, behind its headquarters in the United States (US). There are now approximately 1,000 Greek-controlled ships in the RMI Registry. This is about 21% of all Greek-owned vessels, in total, and it represents a significant proportion of vessels in the RMI Registry.
Our Piraeus office is staffed by a seasoned group of dedicated registry and former seafaring professionals, providing services not only to the Greek market, but also to shipowners in, Cyprus, Turkey, Monaco, Italy, and the Black Sea region. They have become a go-to source of insight for our local owners and partners. The team has full authority to issue dispensations, answer technical questions, handle flag and port State control (PSC) related inspections, and process seafarers’ documentation. With an average of 4,000 documents processed a month, the seafarers’ team is kept particularly busy undertaking the rigorous checks and validations needed to issue such documentation.
There are many flag registries. Why is the choice of the Marshall Island flag so significant or important compared to other flags? What do you think you do better than the others?
It is true that no two flags are the same. The RMI Registry is one of the world’s leading flags, and by several measures, the highest quality flag, too. I think it is our commitment to quality and maintaining the highest standards of safety, as well as customer service, that set us apart. I think our record speaks for itself. We are whitelisted on both the Paris and the Tokyo Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) and have a perfect rating in the International Chamber of Shipping’s annual Shipping Industry Flag State Performance Table, the only one of the top three registries to achieve a positive score in every category.
The RMI Registry was also awarded the US Coast Guard’s (USCG’s) QUALSHIP 21 qualification for the 16th consecutive year this past April, a qualification that speaks for the flag’s proven track record of quality. Approximately one-third of all QUALSHIP 21-certified vessels are flying the RMI flag. The other major flags, Panama and Liberia, are not included on the QUALSHIP 21 roster, which means that vessels flagged to those registries are more likely to be visited by the USCG. In fact, the Liberian registry is now targeted by the USCG.
Of course, it is our global presence, with 28 offices worldwide, the professionalism of our team, our strong relationships across the industry, and our unshakeable standards and best practices that define us. I think these are qualities that attract owners to the RMI Registry.
What is the Marshall Island’s position on the document, “IMO Action to Reduce GHG Emissions from International Shipping”?
You are referring here to the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO’s) initial greenhouse gas (GHG) strategy.The strategy provides a roadmap for a reduction of the total annual GHG emissions from international shipping by at least 50% by 2050 compared to 2008, while at the same time pursuing efforts toward phasing them out entirely. The greatest challenge for every party across the maritime industry is in overcoming uncertainty, given that there is currently no commercially viable fueling solution available to suit every vessel type that needs to meet this ambitious 2050 target.
The RMI does support a coordinated effort to reduce emissions across the maritime industry to protect the environment. Our role is to ensure that as the regulatory agenda progresses, every technical and operational consideration is carefully considered. It is thanks to our considerable size as an organization that we can allocate the necessary resources to ensure a high level of technical expertise on every major IMO committee, including the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC). Our RMI Registry team acts as an impartial third party and maintains open lines of communication with shipowners and operators worldwide on the developing regulatory agenda. This means we always have an ear to the ground when it comes to changes that have an impact on operations.
Does the introduction of new regulations that affect the renewal of the world fleet facilitate or impairyour work?
There are regulatory challenges affecting the development of the world fleet, both positively and negatively—but this does not impair our work. Our role is to ensure the safe operation of vessels, and to work with owners, operators, managers, and crews to ensure regulatory compliance. We are the only major flag that has the worldwide capacity to support owners and our industry partners in adjusting to new regulations, and a great numberof resources go into this effort.
I see from your website that you have a large number of offices around the world. How does your network support your work, and how is your relationship with your clients? Are there any plans to diversify your activities in other sectors to offer value–added services to your clients?
Each of our 28 worldwide offices has the authority to fully serve client needs. Local offices can register a vessel,including those under construction; record a mortgage or financing charter; incorporate a company; issue seafarer documentation; and service clientele. In this way, clients can receive a full spectrum of registry-related services in their own time.
IRI’s decentralized network structure, with each of the 28 offices having decision-making authority, has the benefit of ensuring that all the core functions of the RMI Registry are efficiently and effectively managed. With technical experts and service professionals spread around the world, we provide global service in local time. Clients recognize our expediency not only in resolving administrative issues, but also in providing technical support. We have strong relationships with PSC authorities and local industry bodies worldwide.
The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the benefits of such a model. The fact that we have experienced technical experts and knowledgeable staff spread across the world has really been a key asset during this crisis,because it has allowed us to smoothly transition and move operations around to stay at full capacity for our clients. Prior to COVID-19, each office was empowered to make decisions for clients in their own market—so local leadership was confident and comfortable addressing challenges and resolving problems. Having key resourceswith such a strong global network has prevented many of the communication problems or the delays in technical, marine safety, and radio issues that other registries have experienced. It would be hard to effectively run a world-class registry from a single fixed location in such a global marketplace, and especially in a situation like this one.
Have you invested in social responsibility activities to promote the image of Marshall Islands Registry in Greece?
We do invest a significant number of resources including money, time, and expertise, in a wide range of corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts, particularly those that allow us to share knowledge and best practices for the benefit of our industry and the environment in which we operate. Across the company, we host or participate in hundreds of events each year. Many of these events relate specifically to new regulations or operational changes, while others look at bigger-picture issues. Here in Piraeus, we also sponsor events like the Greek Maritime Hall of Fame, which celebrates maritime history and especially individuals who have made significant contributions to the continuing Greek maritime legacy. Each year our Piraeus office also supports local charities and education initiatives like Isalos.net to help support our local community and increase opportunities for young people.
And now some personal questions to learn who Theofilos Xenakoudis is, besides being IRI’s Director of Worldwide Operations and the Managing Director of the Piraeus office.
What do you think your life would have been like if you did not made the choice to work in shipping? What is your greatest strength as a person?
I cannot really imagine how my professional life would look if I did not work in shipping. It has been a family affair,and an industry I have known since childhood. I grew up in this industry. The question as to my greatest strength as a person is something you should probably address to my colleagues, friends, and family. I would like to think that my energy and passion for my work is something for which I am well known.
What are the greatest milestones of your life?
If we talk about business, I think the milestones were entering the shipping world 20 years ago and when the management of IRI’s Greek office and global business development was assigned to me. Developing the RMI flag into the leading flag in Greece is another important milestone for me. On a private level two things changed my view and perception: losing my father, who was an active member of the office, and having a family.
Are you impulsive or organised?
I could say I am more impulsive and have confidence in my instinct, but that takes years. You cannot run a successful registry business without being organized and without looking at data, figures, as well as taking feedback. At the same time, you need to seize opportunities and know when to react quickly to changing circumstances. I have been told that a major strength of mine is that I always listen to others .
Apart from shipping, what else do you enjoy in life?
I love sports, both playing and watching, reading books, and travelling around the world. Generally, I consider exercise part of my life. I look forward to visiting with friends and family around the world when the COVID-19 situation has passed.
What does the private Theofilos look like at home or among a group of friends?
I am upbeat and like to have fun. I love being around people and enjoy their company. I am a casual person and easy going with friends. However, am also serious when I have to be!
How do you feel now with COVID-19 going around? Do you work from home? How does this affect your day–to–day business? When do you believe we will go back to normal?
It has been a very unsettling situation for everyone. Like most people, I have been mostly working from home, but with the nature of shipping, we have kept a limited staff rotating through the Piraeus office during the lockdown to handle seafarer documentation and other essential matters. Gradually, and with care, we are working on increasing the number of people in the office in accordance with the government’s official guidelines. Day-to-day business has been relatively normal, it has just shifted exclusively to a virtual world. I have been able to connect with clients and colleagues seamlessly, and I spend much of my day jumping from video conference to video conference. Most of our clients appreciate the contact. When we will go back to normal is anyone’s guess. I remain optimistic that we will innovate and adapt.
By Stella Violari