The 20th anniversary of North P&I Club’s Piraeus office coincides with record levels of Greek-owned entered tonnage, but 2020 has demanded renewed commitment to flexibility so that lasting relationships are maintained.
For the relationships underlying much of the business of international shipping, 2020 has been a year of consolidation: proven partners are considered the best option for trading with confidence in periods of uncertainty. While new business can and is being done by video link in the era of Covid-19, ship owners and managers continue to seek service support based on substance as well as screen time.
The requirement to match a global outlook with on-the-spot capabilities is fully understood among staff based in Greece at North P&I Club, whose Piraeus operation celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2020 with record tonnage entered by Greek Members. The 160-year old club, which prides itself on a business approach based on the warmth derived from its native Newcastle, is convinced that the achievement reflects a commitment to both flexibility and permanent relationships.
Tony Allen, Director (Greece)
“Pretty much the second or third question I was asked when I arrived by our Members was how long I would be here,” recalls Tony Allen, Director (Greece), North who became part of the Piraeus team in September 2002. The question, he says, demonstrates the value Greek owners put on the personal relationships that create trust and openness. “Empathy is an essential part of successful P&I: it encourages trust and transparency among all parties.”
North’s push into Greece goes back to the 1980s and a recognition that the UK-based shipping business on which the then small club based much of its earnings was in rapid decline: its first Greek ships were entered in 1984.
This year, the 43M GT of Greek tonnage entered with North is contributed by 83 Members, representing more than 25% of the total 160M GT on its books.
Looking back now to his 2002 arrival, Allen recalls: “We were a small team but knew we were doing many things right from the professional point of view. But it became clear that the future lay in devolving more responsibility to Greece. The level of knowledge among Greek members is immense; we are often challenged on the advice we give, so it’s imperative that expertise is here in Piraeus.”
Building a local team with the skill-sets to support Greece’s continuing position as the number one owner nation in shipping could not happen overnight. North Director (Greece) Gordon Robertson says that the 20-strong team working in Piraeus today has been grown with specific aims in mind.
“We continuously keep track of the highest calibre individuals in the local market to explore whether, if there is any reason why they might be considering moving on, North can accommodate them. We have claims handlers with legal backgrounds, master mariners, people who’ve grown up through the insurance industry and people with working knowledge of shipowners’ offices,” he says.
“It’s a blend developed to find solutions in a challenging commercial environment in which Members need to be able to trade with confidence with full assurance on what they can do and what the consequences are, and they want support 24-7, 365 days a year.”
Gordon Robertson, Director (Greece)
Among the long-established team members are Antigone Yanniotis and Gillian Stanton, both of whom were appointed to Deputy Director (FD&D) Greece positions in September 2020. Combined, Stanton and Yanniotis have nearly 30-years of direct experience of supporting Greek Members. The local North FD&D team, which includes Dimitra Capas, Elisavet Papoutsi and Ruth Gallagher, was also expanded in October, with Alexianna Kalafati transferring from Newcastle to the Greek office. That strength in depth is matched on the P&I side with a team comprising Captain Dev Lajmi, Kostas Katsoulieris, Effie Koureta, Rasmus Tideman, Angelina Kofopoulou and Clare McDowall who recently joined the team in September. The office is also supported by a strong team in Newcastle so that the highest standards of service are provided to our Greek Members.
The continuous investment in talent has allowed North’s business in Greece to grow organically with its Members, says Allen. “Where larger Members are concerned, we’ve been a P&I partner in that shift in emphasis, with large tanker entries, containerships, LNG and LPG carriers joining the bulk carriers.
“It’s also been pleasing to support the progress of that large part of the membership still best described as traditionally run family companies, whose average number of ships has grown from 1-2 to 5. They look to us for multi-disciplinary expertise and routinely test our knowledge not just in relation to claims handling but also on operational and commercial matters, as well as on the law and loss prevention.”
P&I for starters
Participating in the culture of Greek shipping also demands a commitment to the nation’s seafaring heritage, Allen adds. He credits an introduction from a leading Greek owner for North’s delivery of an annual lecture to cadets at the Hydra Merchant Academy, founded in 1763. The event, which includes a North prize for the ‘cadet of the year’, is an opportunity for the P&I club to outline examples of real incidents at sea that the budding mariners can learn from.
“It’s a chance for them to look beyond the classroom and realise that ‘this could happen to me’,” says Allen. Catching cadets early in a seafaring life which may lead on to superintendent and management roles ashore is an opening to “make a lasting impression that ships can be dangerous places: training and drills are there for a reason”.
The hazards of enclosed spaces, and newer challenges such as Covid-19 and cyberattacks, are best explained using examples from life, he says: “It’s imperative that we get the message across, given the potential consequences for ship safety, but also for welfare and mental well-being.”
“This year has created new challenges for everyone in shipping, and it has also brought changes for the way we do some things in Greece,” Robertson adds. “We’ve essentially replicated our seminars, briefings and forums online and there have been some advantages in doing this, from both sides. Webinars can be more targeted, while Member forum discussions have been very candid around Covid-19, low sulphur fuel and IMO 2021 requirements on cyber risks, among other topics.”
Both Allen and Robertson emphasise the value Greek Member forums play in “letting us know what is keeping owners awake at night” (Robertson), sometimes flushing out ways of adapting North initiatives to address specific issues. “We’ve developed digital solutions to help Members adjust to IMO 2021 cyber security needs, for example, but sometimes it’s less about giving customers the answers and more about giving them the tools to find their own answers.”
After 20 years of direct engagement in the Greek shipping market, both directors believe that digital technology will play an increasing role in sustaining the relationship between the world’s number one ship owning nation and its largest P&I supporter.
“It’s clear that digital transformation is driving fundamental change in the collaborations between shipowners and managers, brokers and the wider insurance industry,” says Robertson. “North’s interactive, award-winning, geographical information portal MyGlobeView has proved especially impactful, while we have also recently launched the Route Risk Advice tool.”
Earlier this year, the International Group of P&I Clubs (IG) launched its online dashboard to help shipowners track Covid-19 worldwide. This, too, was made possible by North, which shared its inhouse digital assets to deliver tangible value to shipowners.
“We believe that this kind of collaborative approach will become more typical, long after the Covid-19 crisis has subsided,” says Robertson. “Based on robust relationships, we see digitalisation as a key to fast-track product development and enhanced service delivery across all insurance activities.”