Blue Growth is Real in Cyprus
Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide (HSNW): Blue growth has been at the forefront of Cyprus’ policy during the past few years. What are the main priorities of this initiative?
Natasa Pilides, Cyprus Shipping Deputy Minister (NP): For the past few years, the Cyprus Shipping Deputy Ministry (SDM) has continued to position Cyprus as a global maritime cluster for ship registration, fleet management, and other related maritime services. We’re committed to a blue growth strategy to support sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors, both on a national and international scale. To achieve this, the Shipping Deputy Ministry is coordinating the design and implementation of a multidimensional blue growth strategy and a related action plan in collaboration with all relevant ministries and organisations. This includes a project on Marine Spatial Planning for which the Deputy Ministry has obtained EU funding. We’ve also been working with innovative, Cyprus-based companies that primarily have a technological or educational focus.
HSNW: An example of this work involves the development of a Fleet Information Sharing Platform (F.I.S.H.), in conjunction with Prevention at Sea. Can you provide us with more details?
Petros Achtypis, Founder of Prevention at Sea (PA): As a leader in maritime technology and risk prevention, and dedicated to disruptive innovation, we developed the F.I.SH. platform as part of our commitment to offer proactive thinking and new technologies to this complex industry. F.I.SH. is an online ship data repository designed to standardise, automate and reduce the time spent in the ship inspection process and ship data collection for review by third parties.
With the support of the SDM in endorsing our platform and contributing to our research and development with its technical expertise, we’re encouraging research, technological development, and innovation activities (RTDI) by combining our experience and embracing new technologies.
We’re now close to finalising the pilot phase, which the Shipping Deputy Ministry will be participating in, by adopting the programme on a pilot basis. Once completed, the next steps of the project will involve implementation and training for end users. We’ll encourage seafarers and shipping companies to utilise the F.I.SH. platform during their forthcoming visit at Cyprus ports and the annual flag ship safety inspection, and we expect to release the platform later this year.
HSNW: Can you tell us more about the Cyprus Marine and Maritime Institute that Cyprus SDM is closely aligned with?
Zacharias Siokouros, CEO of CMMI (ZS): As part of Cyprus SDM’s ambitious plans for sustainable growth, Natasa and her team are supporting the Cyprus Marine and Maritime Institute (CMMI) to enhance Cyprus’ competitiveness and the European Union’s (EU) blue economy. Our institute is an independent, international, scientific and business centre of excellence for marine and maritime activities, which has obtained funding in excess of €40 million from the EU, the Cyprus government and the private sector. CMMI forges partnerships with well-known European institutions and businesses, active in the fields of research, technology and innovation for the blue economy, contributing to the exchange of best practices for the growth and development of the maritime industry.
One of the key aims is to carry out RTDI activities that provide practical solutions to the challenges that our industry, and society, face or will face in the future. An increasing number of marine technology and innovation companies in Cyprus have already expressed interest in participating in the programme in collaboration with shipping companies within our cluster. By working with the Cyprus SDM, we’re demonstrating our commitment to the maritime sector and the Cyprus flag, while promoting closer collaboration between the maritime industry and the academic community at a global level.
HSNW: How will these efforts progress moving forward? What are the next steps and what is the ultimate goal?
NP: The Cyprus SDM is actively involved in promoting positive change in the shipping industry, particularly by supporting technological innovation and educational programmes to grow Cyprus as a maritime hub. This is why we’re proud to support the Prevention at Sea and CMMI initiatives, as well as a number of different projects, as it shows our commitment to these advancements within our maritime cluster. This is happening in combination with our own internal projects in the area of digitisation, where a number of online applications have been added to the suite of electronic services available on our website, which is going to be expanded further in the next few months and years.
We continue to forge partnerships with forward-thinking organisations and in the area of education, the Deputy Ministry is taking steps to incentivise young people to follow maritime careers by providing scholarships and grants to students of the Cyprus maritime academies, as well as through a number of programmes and awareness campaigns for young adults.
By focusing on top quality, value-for-money services on a 24/7 basis, we have achieved steady growth of the Cyprus fleet in the last 5 years, which currently ranks 11th worldwide. Our goal is to return to the top ten fleets in the world. To achieve this goal, an intense promotional strategy is underway, in addition to the recent revision of our registration policy and the abolition of initial registration fees and mortgage fees for sea-going vessels. Our efforts also include the strengthening of our relationship and collaboration with shipowners from Cyprus and abroad.
HSNW: Cyprus has been a prime candidate to establish a solid maritime cluster of international levels. Do you see this as an achievable goal, or do you think that competition from established shipping centers like London and Singapore are hard to compete with?
NP: A key aspect of Cyprus SDM’s strategy is to safeguard and increase the competitiveness that Cyprus has become known for, by ensuring we maintain the stable, business-friendly framework available to foreign investors in shipping. Cyprus already has around 300 companies active in the maritime sector which are focusing not only in the areas of ship ownership and ship management, but many other maritime-related activities such as chartering, shipping insurance, brokerage, maritime technology and training, telecommunications services, bunkering and spare parts provision. A number of marinas are also being developed to complement the highly successful Limassol marina which has been operating since 2014, while small shipyards have been expanding their offering and bespoke services to cover the growing needs of the market.
By renewing our registration policy, updating our Tonnage Tax System, rationalising merchant shipping fees and taxes, and continuously improving our services for Cyprus flagged ships and shipping companies resident in Cyprus, we strive to deliver a first-class service. Our efforts to enhance both the breadth and quality of training offered at the three maritime academies active in Cyprus has also yielded positive results, with more than 300 students studying at these academies at present. This has created a promising pipeline of maritime professionals which is available to cater to the demands of the local shipping industry, a factor which is considered crucial to the future development of our maritime cluster in both size and range of services available.
We also continue to be actively involved in addressing and shaping industry issues, challenges and regulations on an international level. This is particularly evident with our ongoing engagement with international shipping organisations and committees – such as the IMO, the EU, MEPC, EMSA, AMSA, REMPEC, tripartite meetings with Greece and Malta, bilateral meetings with shipping nations such as China, Singapore, the UK, Egypt, Georgia, and Poland – we’re at the forefront of supporting progress in this rapidly evolving industry.
HSNW: Since you’ve taken office, you’ve been campaigning towards attracting more foreign shipping companies in Cyprus, especially as Brexit is pushing more companies towards an exit from the UK. How successful would you say this effort has been?
NP: There has certainly been an increase in the number of ship managers, owners of foreign vessels, and charterers who are under our Tonnage Tax System, which has increased from 168 to 219 since the creation of the Deputy Ministry.
Besides the great interest from companies performing core shipping activities, we have also seen a lot of interest from companies engaging in shipping-related activities, such as insurance companies and P&I Clubs. We’re committed to enhancing our competitiveness and to providing high quality services at a business-friendly cost, to ensure that this trend continues for the coming years. Our vision is to cement Cyprus’ position as a truly comprehensive maritime centre, covering the full range of shipping and shipping-related activities.
For companies choosing to base themselves in Cyprus, one of the most important aspects is our strong maritime services infrastructure which spans the breadth of insurance, legal, accounting and ship management to bunkering and technical services, all offering a professional and reliable 24/7 service. We offer a unique combination of highly qualified professionals, unrivalled quality of life, and an ideal location in terms of time zone and access to emerging markets.
HSNW: Your most recent visit was in the Netherlands. Can you offer us an insight in your meetings there?
NP: An important part of our promotional strategy includes the strengthening of relationships with existing clients and also the exploration of new areas of collaboration with shipping companies in important shipping centres. Our visit to the Netherlands was particularly constructive in obtaining feedback from a number of our collaborators on the quality of our services, the prospects for further collaboration and common areas of interest. This included blue growth, innovation, marine spatial planning and the industry’s ongoing efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. We also had the opportunity to organise an event at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, which at the time hosted the largest ever exhibition of Cyprus antiquities to have been organised outside Cyprus. It was a wonderful opportunity for us and our collaborators in the Netherlands to experience Cyprus culture and to exchange views in an interesting and inspiring setting.
Nikos Roussanoglou, Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide