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Xenakoudis: The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) Registry Weathers the Pandemic With Success

2020 was more than a challenging year for the shipping industry. Theofilos Xenakoudis, Director, Worldwide Business Operations for the RMI Registry and Managing Director of the Piraeus office, says that the Registry managed to receive its best ever ranking from Port State Control authorities around the world. Of course the pandemic posed a different set of challenges, with crew changes being the most notable Mr. Xenakoudis admitted in an exclusive interview with Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide (www.hellenicshippingnews.com).

Theofilos Xenakoudis

How has the 2020 year been in terms of the Marshall Islands Registry’s growth, both in terms of quality, but also quantity?

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) Registry had a successful year. We remained completely focused on customer service, fleet quality, and safety. We are proud of our team for remaining centered on these key elements of the Registry. We received our best ever ranking from port State control (PSC) authorities globally, receiving a top ranking with the Paris Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), maintaining our status with the United States Coast Guard’s Qualship 21 program for a 16th consecutive year, remaining as a top performing flag on the Tokyo MoU, and improving our standing with the Australian Maritime Safety Administration (AMSA).

What about the Greek market, where you hold one of the leading positions?

The Piraeus office of International Registries, Inc., which provides administrative and technical support to the RMI Maritime and Corporate Registries, is the largest office outside of headquarters and has a very extensive and capable team. Throughout the pandemic we’ve been able to provide seamless support to the Greek market, even during the most stringent restrictions thanks to IRI’s worldwide offices. A core team of technical and operations personnel rotated working from the office, while others transitioned quickly and efficiently to working from home. Our Piraeus team connected with clients through video meetings and virtually participated in a number of industry events. With nearly 32% of the RMI Registry’s total gross tonnage represented by Greek interests, it is imperative to maintain these connections.

Would you say that the pandemic completely altered the priorities, both among your clients, but also for the flag states?

No, I do not think the pandemic altered actual priorities. That being said, it’s undeniable that COVID19 affected some of our normal daily routines and operations. Despite restrictions, the Registry remained focused on the normal activities of protecting life, the environment, and resources. We remained fully operational, with no disruptions to our clients, to ensure RMI registered ships continued to trade and the global supply chain kept moving. We acted quickly to begin remote inspections, transition to virtual meetings and, facilitate electronic registrations and virtual closings. The pandemic response required collaboration unlike the industry has ever seen to maintain the safe movement of goods and people. That prompted the Registry, which does not typically need to become involved in crew change, to advocate on behalf of seafarers to facilitate crew change worldwide.

Which have been the biggest challenges of 2020?

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented the industry with a number of challenges, many of which we were able to overcome with technology, collaboration, and innovative thinking. Crew change was perhaps the biggest challenge of 2020, and it required an “all hands on deck” approach to finding solutions, however temporary they may be. The crew change crisis is not over and a lasting solution, which prevents seafarers from being in this position again, must be found. Although the industry continues to develop new technologies and explore uses for automation, we must always remember that the human element to shipping is critical to our success and do all we can to protect the safety and security of our seafarers.

How did the Marshall Islands Registry manage to stay operational and maintain the level of service required?

Fortunately, we have a decentralized framework. Our 28 worldwide offices have operational and decision-making authority, and our technical team is spread across the globe. This allowed us to immediately and seamlessly shift operations and support between offices as local closures dictated. Offices in jurisdictions that required remote work were able to shift in-person operations to offices in other parts of the world, ensuring that documentation processing and support were always available and moving through the system. Investments in the last five years in technology and digitization also benefited the Registry in the early days of the pandemic, as we had the systems in place already to manage a largely remote work environment.

Is there a silver lining which we could identify in a post-pandemic world?

Challenge presents us with opportunity, and I think we’ve seen that with the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 forced the industry to innovate, test, explore, and develop new tools to conduct business, ensure safe vessel operation, and protect the crew and the marine environment. In many cases these tools, such as remote inspections, video conferencing, and electronic closings, will likely remain with us in the post-pandemic world to help facilitate “normal” business. Looking to the future, I think we’re on the cusp of truly innovative tools and techniques, some of which were not even on the horizon last year.
Nikos Roussanoglou, Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide

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