How I Work: Shipping Deputy Ministry reports growth since its formation

It may only be 18 months since the new Shipping Deputy Ministry was formed but it is already seeing results, according to Deputy Minister of Shipping Natasa Pilides, with Cyprus attracting new companies and growth in both the number of companies operating in Cyprus and in the revenues of the shipmanagement sector.

Before the formation of the Shipping Deputy Ministry, the Department of Merchant Shipping was part of the Ministry of Transport, based in Nicosia, which had a huge portfolio covering 10 different departments.

“The department was working very pro-actively, and with a great team, which was really business-minded, but now we have autonomy and, by reporting directly to the President, we are able to ensure the fast-tracking of decisions and reforms which can take the sector forward,” explained Ms Pilides.

Now based in Limassol, the Deputy Ministry meets with representatives of the resident industry every couple of weeks at least to discuss the main pillars of the National Shipping Strategy and tries to implement all the decisions in the best way.

“We have done a number of things we aimed to do in our first year, and one of these was the restructuring of the Deputy Ministry, which was based on an independent study,” explained Ms Pilides. This involved a reorganisation of the Deputy Ministry departments and the creation of some new positions to implement best practices and “to provide the best possible service”.

The Deputy Ministry has also relaunched its website and automated a number of the processes on it, so there is now automatic verification of certificates, with the next step being to provide online registration. It has also automated the seafarer system, and is in the process of digitising records and going paperless.

Ms Pilides said there were a few challenges in trying to meet the expectations of the industry.

“I would say that it does take time to implement certain decisions because consultation with a number of different stakeholders is often necessary before any reforms are implemented. However, we are doing everything possible to facilitate all processes and we have already simplified and improved a number of procedures.  We have updated our ship registration policy, we have extended our ISO certification to our flag state control procedures, we have updated our agreements with all recognised organisations (classification societies), we have rebranded and updated all our promotional material and we are halfway through the digitalisation of our records. We are also very involved in the discussions going on at EU and IMO level.”

She said the Deputy Ministry was working hard with the IMO to contribute to discussions so it could get to the point where it was able to clarify all the issues still pending for 2020. It also holds regular meetings with MPs, and there are also plans to meet with the newly elected MEPs.

“From the side of the industry, we are a very close-knit community and we already have regular contact with all of our clients. The advantage of being in a small place is, I suppose, that we all know each other, so it is very easy if someone has a problem to pick up the phone and get it resolved.”

Promoting the Cyprus maritime cluster overseas is also high on the agenda. “It’s a complex process and not just something that happens overnight,” said Ms Pilides. “We have had good results in enlarging the cluster both in terms of the core companies that we have because we have had quite a big increase in the companies that are within our tonnage tax system, particularly on the shipowning side – there is quite a big increase. We have also had a couple of new shipmanagement companies that are setting up in Cyprus and also a couple who have been here for a few years which are expanding. It’s great.”

She added that along with growth in the core shipping industry, there was also a lot of growth in the surrounding area, such as technology companies, bunkering companies doing international collaboration and shipyards doing repairs and specialised work for yachts at Limassol Marina. There have also been a couple of applications from P&I Clubs to come to Cyprus and the island’s banks are now offering ship financing solutions “which definitely wasn’t the case a few years ago”.

Another big project is the Centre of Excellence in Research and Innovation involving a collaboration of the Larnaca Municipality and Limassol Chamber of Commerce with the University of Southampton, the Maritime Institute in Ireland and the private sector. The European Commission announced in May that project CMMI Maritec-X had been awarded a €15 million grant with the project’s main objective to establish a Centre of Excellence for Marine and Maritime Research in Cyprus (the Cyprus Marine and Maritime Institute) within the next seven years. The Government will also provide €15m funding, and the resident industry in Cyprus has also pledged its support with commitments of €10m from various private companies.

“The idea is that the industry will be advising the Centre about the technological solutions needed so that the researchers and start-up companies working with the Centre will be in a position to develop solutions to cater to industry needs,” said Ms Pilides.

The Deputy Ministry is also promoting the three maritime academies now on the island by providing grants and scholarships and is a big supporter of initiatives, such as the Careers Fair organised by the Cyprus Shipping Chamber and the Adopt a Ship programme, which is run in elementary schools in collaboration with CYMEPA and the Cyprus Shipping Chamber.

“We really want to strengthen our position as a cluster and we think what we have achieved is to move beyond the registry to a fully developed cluster encompassing all the different components of the maritime industry,” said Ms Pilides.