Home Cyprus A 360 degree interview with the new Cyprus Shipping Deputy Minister Vassilis...

A 360 degree interview with the new Cyprus Shipping Deputy Minister Vassilis Demetriades

Cyprus, and more particularly Limassol, is considered to be the largest third party shipmanagement centre in the European Union, and one of the largest in the world. A large number of shipowning, shipmanagement and shipping related companies maintain fully-fledged offices and conduct their international activities from Cyprus. The vast majority of these companies are located in Limassol and are Members of the Cyprus Shipping Chamber. Some of the largest shipmanagement companies in the world have their headquarters and conduct their operations from Limassol. It is estimated that approximately 4% of the world’s fleet is managed from Cyprus. Among the shipowning and shipmanagement companies established and operating from Cyprus, 90% are controlled by EU, including Cypriot interests.

Companies engaged in chartering, crewing, ship surveying, shipbroking, salvaging and marine insurance, are able to offer first class services to their customers worldwide from their offices in Cyprus. In addition, competent and reputable shipping agents, efficient clearing and forwarding agents as well as top class ship chandlers, freight forwarders, travel agents and other shipping related companies are located in Cyprus.

Today, the Cyprus Registry is classified as the 11th largest merchant fleet globally and the 3rd largest fleet in the European Union with more than 1000 ocean-going vessels totalling 23 million gross tons. The Cyprus Registry is continuously upgrading its services in order to offer a high standard of support to its flag users and maintain its reputation as a “Flag of Progress and Quality”.

We met with the new Shipping Deputy Minister Vassilis Demetriades at his new office at the Shipping Deputy Ministry and had the opportunity to find out who Vassilis is in his personal life and who the Demetriades is as Shipping Deputy Minister and his plans for Cyprus Shipping.

Let’s start with the man behind the shipping deputy minister. How would
you describe yourself in 5 words?
Instead of using 5 words to describe myself I prefer to share with you my motto
which comes in 5 words! “Impossible is often the untried”

How did you get involved with the maritime affairs?
Being a Limassolian, born and raised by the sea, most of my childhood memories were inevitably at Limassol seafront, 300 meters from my family house. The sand between my toes, the salt water, the sea air and the ships anchored at Limassol old port influenced my decision to apply for the post of a merchant shipping officer at the Department of Merchant shipping back in 1998.

What are your hobbies?
Running, DJing and writing.

What do you do in your free time? What does private Vassilis look like at
home or in a group of friends?
Running and running ? because is one of the best solutions to a clear mind!
How private Vassilis looks like you better ask his family and friends. Vassilis is very spontaneous and is trying to enjoy every single minute with family and friends. It gives him a great joy to entertain his friends by DJing. It is not about choosing a few tunes. It is about generating shared moods and understanding the feelings of your friends “directing” them to a better place. This is an amazing feeling.

What type of music do you listen?
I listen and play to all sorts of music though the sounds of the 80s are timeless.
Vassilis in his free personal time is listening to classic rock masterpieces as well as jazzy and blues tunes.

What are the greatest milestones of your life?
Any accomplishment of a target is a milestone. It is important to turn your ideas to a reality and to inspire others to work together as a team for a common goal. No matter how big or small idea is. It could be a project like the “Limassol Declaration” on the EU integrated maritime policy, it could be a new working method in your business environment, it could be the hard training for a marathon and the feeling of crossing the finish line. It could be anything that inspires or brings real change to other people’s life.

What do you look forward for Cyprus shipping for the next 5 years?
Shipping is not just an activity that is developed in Cyprus over the last four decades. It is a national treasure and should be preserved. It should grow in a sustainable way in order to contribute to the Cyprus economy for many years. Cyprus shipping enjoys high reputation at global and European level and with the richness of expertise of our shipping professionals both from the public and private sector is in a position to actively participate to the formulation of the global maritime agenda.

It is a sector that makes us proud. We should therefore make strenuous efforts to promote the national maritime cluster among the young generation in order to ensure a bright future for Cyprus shipping.

What do you bring to your new role as the 2nd Shipping Deputy Minister of
Cyprus?
Undoubtedly, in the two and a half years of operation of the Shipping Deputy Ministry, important steps have been taken aiming at both strengthening the competitiveness of the Cyprus Registry and further upgrading Cyprus as a shipping centre. It is a great honor for me to be appointed as the 2nd Shipping Deputy Minister of Cyprus and to be at the helm of this passionate and dynamic team. Our ultimate goal is to continue growing Cyprus shipping and to further develop our maritime cluster and flag. This will be achieved through the promotion of the Cyprus flag, continuous updating, simplification and modernisation of the relevant legislative framework to address the current and future challenges, quality improvements to the services we provide, and strengthening the collaboration with our stakeholders across the public and private sectors.

It is well known that the shipping industry faces many challenges both at European and global level. Effective co-operation and collaboration between regulators and the industry lies at the heart of ensuring a better and sustainable future for shipping. I hope that my experience from previous roles in working with the EU towards enhancing the competitiveness and promoting initiatives for an environmentally sustainable shipping sector will support Cyprus’ continuing role in shaping progress.

What makes Cyprus stand out from other maritime nations? How can we
further elevate Cyprus Shipping amongst international competition?
The Cyprus Shipping Registry ranks 11th worldwide and 3rd in Europe, while Cyprus
is one of the largest third-party ship management globally.

Cyprus offers a unique experience to investors and trading partners in a business-friendly investment environment. Located at the crossroads of important sea trade routes and at the heart of an emerging energy region, Cyprus is a common law jurisdiction with a business-friendly framework, a large pool of high-calibre, specialised human talent and advanced shipping infrastructure. Both the public and private sectors offer high quality services at competitive prices, allowing the large resident shipping industry to grow and thrive.

Cyprus is one of the key shipping centres in the world with wide and well-developed
shipping cluster combining a sovereign flag and a resident shipping industry renowned for its high-quality services and standards of safety. The richness of expertise and knowhow of the Shipping Deputy Ministry’s specialists, allows us to further tailor our services and enhance relationship with shipping companies.

In addition, as Shipping Deputy Ministry we attach great importance in the quality and
speed of our services, which are tailored to our clients and available on a 24/7 basis.
Our aim is to make the best use of the digital technologies promoting a paperless
environment to most of our services thus increasing efficiency and attractiveness of
the Cyprus flag.

Cyprus flag has an excellent safety and security record, a strong presence and voice
both at international shipping fora and within the EU and, can contribute meaningfully
to the formulation of international and regional regulatory framework for shipping.
Cyprus is also part of all international maritime conventions on safety, security,
pollution prevention, maritime labour and health and safety ensuring their effective
implementation.

The European Commission’s approval of the prolongation of the Cyprus tonnage tax
system for another 10 years provides stability and certainty to the companies
operating in Cyprus and allows them to continue their activities without substantial
changes in terms of the fiscal-tax environment. Also, the competitive registration fees
and duties, including no initial registration fees or mortgage fees for ocean-going
vessels, are part of Cyprus Registry’s competitive advantages.

What do you think are the main advantages of Cyprus Shipping compared
to other sectors of the Cyprus economy?
Shipping has in fact evolved in the recent years as one of the leading sectors of the
national economy. It is estimated that the shipping revenues represent about 7% of
the GDP with a very positive outlook for even further development.

Despite the international adverse economic conditions and the financial difficulties
that Cyprus faced in previous years, the shipping sector managed to absorb successfully the negative effects of the international shipping and economic crisis. There is a steady growth of investments in Cyprus derived from the shipping sector. More than 240 shipping companies (shipowners, charterers and ship management companies) are based in Cyprus. In recent years, a great number of companies providing maritime related services such as maritime technology, ancillary services, telecommunications, education and training, repair and maintenance, supply of equipment and spare parts, shipping insurance, brokerage and shipping finance, as well as specialized legal and accounting services, have established presence in the country.

Undoubtedly the establishment of the Shipping Deputy Ministry enhanced the development and promotion of the shipping sector. The shipping sector provides
employment to more than 55,000 seafarers on board Cyprus flag ships. Furthermore
around 9,000 people are employed at shipping companies based in Cyprus. It is
important to acknowledge shipping not just as sector that contributes to Cyprus’
economy but as our national treasure. A sector that is an absolute must to maintain
and develop further.

What are the priorities that the Shipping Ministry in terms of the ongoing
“National Shipping Policy” and what is your vision?
Μy vision for Cyprus shipping is to further strengthen the sector and the national maritime cluster, to maximize the growth potential of the Cyprus fleet and utilize opportunities derived from shipping and maritime activities in the country. In this respect, we plan to formulate a strategic vision for Cyprus shipping and maritime cluster setting objectives for the next two decades.

A maritime nation like Cyprus must have a clear orientation for the future development of the shipping sector in order to ensure that Cyprus has a leading role and involvement in the formulation of the global and European maritime agenda. Our aim is to adopt a comprehensive strategy whilst building a shipping and maritime culture in our country. As part of this exercise we will consult all the relevant stakeholders and the public.

In addition to the long-term orientation and perspective, it is of paramount importance
to ensure that the sector is safe, socially and environmentally responsible, competitive and efficient.

One of our top priorities is to maintain and further enhance the stable, business–
friendly framework available to foreign investors in shipping. The recent decision by the European Commission on the prolongation of the Cyprus Tonnage Tax System for another 10 years is an important development. We are now working towards introducing new fiscal and other incentives in order to ensure that Cyprus remains at the edge of the competition as a shipping centre.

Another priority for the Deputy Ministry is the formulation of an integrated maritime
policy aiming towards maximizing the growth potential of all shipping, maritime and
marine related activities in an environmentally sustainable way. An integral part of
this policy is the formulation of the national maritime spatial plan by March 2021, as
required by the European Commission.

Moreover in terms of technology and digitalization, our aim is to promote a paperless
environment in our operations to increase the efficiency and attractiveness of our
services.

Cyprus and by extension Cyprus Shipping is trying to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic impact. As we are moving out from the pandemic what are the challenges for the “day after”? Do you identify any opportunities such as the urgent need for digital transformation? How ready is Cyprus and by extension the Shipping Ministry to adapt to this?
COVID-19 pandemic is challenging our working structures and business models and
will fuel the next wave of innovation.

The response of the Shipping Deputy Ministry to the pandemic was immediate and effective in an attempt to ease the operations and facilitate crew changes. Towards this direction and through the efficient use of digital platforms, special measures were introduced such as deferral of payment deadlines for tonnage tax and annual maintenance fees, the extension of the validity of certain certificates, the possibility of remote audits and guidelines regarding best practices and recommended precautionary measures.

One thing that seems to be certain is that COVID-19 will accelerate the digital transformation. It is clearer than ever that the shipping sector needs to embrace fully the new digital technologies and in the Shipping Deputy Ministry we are well aware that we must make the most of the opportunities offered by a digitalized business environment. In this respect, we are focusing on initiatives to simplify formalities and to digitalize our services.

Going paperless is a journey worth taking in order to increase efficiency and attractiveness of the Cyprus Registry and its relevant services. There is still a long way to go to bring a complete digital transformation to the public sector.

However, it is worth noting that there are important steps towards this direction. The
Shipping Deputy Ministry’s website is redesigned and is now more user friendly with
upgraded online services notably the electronic validation of certificates, the seafarers’ management system (an interactive career support platform for seafarers) and the online tax calculator. More online services such as the Port State Control platform, ship registration process and the digitalization of the archives are under development.

Moreover, the Shipping Deputy Ministry strongly encourages and supports research and innovation initiatives. Examples such as the Cyprus Marine and Maritime Institute (CMMI) and the Cyprus Foundation Of The Sea (CY-FOS), promote technological innovation bringing together the academic world with the public and private sector to jointly develop innovative systems providing solutions to effectively response to the green and digital transformation of the sector.

The Shipping Industry is proven in the past to be a driving force that can bring stability and contribute to the Cyprus economy. However, the Industry is in need not only State support to do that but also the EU support from the Recovery fund. What will be Cyprus’s actions to secure that?
The shipping sector is in a period of profound transformation. Decarbonization and
digitalization are tremendous challenges. There is no doubt that the severe economic impact of COVID-19 is reducing the ability of the shipping industry to cope effectively with these challenges. The EU recovery fund comes with “green” and “digital” conditions.

Regulators and industry, at national and European level, should work together to cushion the impact of the pandemic while preserving the long-term sustainability of the sector and retaining the environmental ambitions. Cyprus position is clear. The twin transition and opportunity of digitalisation and decarbonisation should not be lost and the only way to keep the ambition high is through adequate funding and support to the shipping industry.

In Cyprus there is a fully fleshed and operational resident Shipping Industry which is actively represented by the Cyprus Shipping Chamber. How do you plan to make good use of the huge and diversified expertise among the Chamber Members and how will you cooperate with the Chamber and other shipping related bodies in Cyprus for the better enhancement of Shipping both in Cyprus and abroad?
We share the same vision with the resident shipping industry for a competitive, safe,
efficient, environmentally sustainable and socially responsible Cyprus shipping cluster. The Cyprus Shipping Chamber and its members are our esteemed ambassadors. The competitive advantage of Cyprus shipping is that regulators and industry are working together to formulate national shipping policies and new initiatives. Towards this end, we have several joint committees that are examining various issues pertaining to Cyprus shipping with the active participation of both the Cyprus Shipping Chamber and the Cyprus Union of Shipowners.

I strongly believe that the huge and diversified expertise of the Cyprus shipping industry is invaluable for the Shipping Deputy Ministry in achieving our goals and promoting our interests in all the relevant European and global shipping fora.

By Stella Violari