First Person: Natasa Pilides

Cyprus’ new Deputy Minister for Shipping

 

The appointment of Natasa Pilides as the new Cyprus Deputy Minister for Shipping is significant for a number of reasons. Not least because it gives shipping on the island its own home ‘or temple’ as one shipping observer noted, from which to do its work – recognition you might say for the role it plays in the country’s economy –  but significant because it means the country has a chance to stop ‘talking about’ what it needs to do to grow as a maritime nation and ‘do’ what is needed to grow as a maritime nation. Action not talk is something the shipping industry is calling for. And it believes Ms Pilides is able to deliver on this.

“There are some challenges ahead but there are also an awful lot of opportunities which is why Government happens to be talking about it and wanting for it to happen for so long,” she told SMI. 

“One of the issues the Cypriot government has faced in the past, was that the Ministries all had a lot on their plates because of the various portfolios they had under their wing. This is Cyprus’ first Deputy Ministry so it is a big challenge as we have to prove that this model is going to work. And that it is going to work well,” she added.

And the idea of the Deputy Ministry is a good one as important sectors of the economy, or really important parts of Government policy, are autonomous or are given specific attention so they can develop and implement a policy that is integrated, complete, to ensure the sector continues to thrive. 

“There has been a study by independent advisers on shipping in Cyprus, its competitive advantages and how it compares to other clusters. A lot of positive results came out of the study none more so than all the companies here were satisfied with the services provided by the state and that they were satisfied with the competitive advantages that Cyprus enjoyed. But a lot of good points also came out of it as to how we can improve with the further development of a one-stop-shop for shipping companies,” she told SMI.

But as the Deputy Minister explained, all the points that came out of this strategy need to be re-examined and refocused and need to be implemented in a regimented way. “We have started working on this and have a committee which I look after which brings together experts from the private sector. Together we are forming the action plan with regards to each of the goals we set.

“First of all there is the subject of an integrated maritime policy, and it is now really important that we are able to complete this autonomously and ensure it takes place in the timeline and within the framework that we are aiming for. It also includes planning how we develop the maritime coastline, not the  beaches but in terms of the sea. What types of developments are allowed there and how other ministries will be involved as well. Our role is one of coordination as well as developing and formulating a plan with the input of the other ministries and departments.”

An important next step is formulating a shipping strategy which answers questions such as what are the competitive advantages for shipping and on a wider level, what Cyprus needs to do to be business friendly and to attract investment. 

“There is also the brand which is something that has been a little neglected. This is something that came out of the study and while we have many competitive advantages which compare very well to the most advanced centres of the world, we could do a lot more to project these advantages internationally. So, we are undertaking a rebranding exercise at the moment and looking at how do we capitalise on our strength to have a more meaningful impact and a voice in terms of international maritime affairs,” she said.

And what does the Deputy Minister believe is the best way to sell the Cyprus shipping cluster brand internationally?

“We get out there and make ourselves heard and that has to do with finding the aspects of the brand we want to promote. We also need to understand how satisfied our customers are. If you have happy investors, they are the best way of promoting your brand even further. They also need to feel that the Deputy Ministry is there to help them and that we offer a 24-hour service, willingly and with enthusiasm because we want to serve them in the best way that we can.

“That involves not just providing the services but looking at how we can improve those services to make them more client-friendly, more user-friendly for all of the users,” she added.

One area that is likely to come under scrutiny is the regular Maritime Cyprus conference which the Minister said would be ‘enhanced’ at the very least with additional cocktail receptions and dinners.

“A lot of it has to do with a very targeted approach to companies whether they are existing or prospective; you need to let them know they have access. One of the great advantages of Cyprus is that it is a small place, and we know the ship owners and the ship managers personally. We have a very good relationship with them and we understand what the challenges are and how to resolve them.”

But Cyprus is known as a shipmanagement cluster albeit with ambitions to expand and attract other sectors in. But what is the strategy here or is the minister just happy for Cyprus to be known as one of the world’s largest ship management centres?

Ms Pilides again: “We have done a lot of work in broadening the cluster and have a good range of companies across sectors; we have ship finance now because all our banks are offering it; we have marine insurance and we are really trying to attract more companies here, and we are still very competitive in terms of pricing. It is important to have the full range of companies here, but it is important to also say do you have a talent pool that you can rely on? Again, this is something we can say we have actually achieved on.

“One of the most important things for Cyprus now and you’re right in pointing it out, is how do we broaden the logistical side because this is the one area that I would say, in past years, has been missing. And I think that the recent privatisation of the Limassol port will really help in that way because first of all we have DP World, a very important player in this market, managing the Limassol port; secondly we have got developments in Cyprus’ EEZ, in the wider area, which is very important. Safety also plays a part, the fact that Cyprus is a safe location, one of the five safest countries in the world, according to some studies.

“Going back to what you were saying about whether Cyprus should specialise, I don’t think that is a strategy we would pursue. We are proud of our flag because it compliments what we offer and it is a source of pride for
us that we are a responsible flag state and port state, and
the services provided in these areas are of a high standard, and safety regulations are of a high standard. While we
may not be in a position currently, to aspire to a position
of being third, fourth or fifth in the world, I do think we can do more and all of it with the ultimate hope that there will be a resolution and a lifting of the Turkish ban,”
she concluded. l