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Marina Hadjimanolis: Our ultimate goal is to provide quality services to all shipping companies

According to Marina Hadjimanolis, Deputy Minister of Shipping, the local maritime sector is becoming more diverse, open and bold and the only way to maintain this momentum is to transform challenges into opportunities. One important measure to this end was the operation of the One-Stop Shipping Centre. “Our ultimate goal for the Centre is to be able to provide quality services to all shipping companies and to companies involved in shipping-related activities,” she explains.

What has the Deputy Ministry of Shipping accomplished when it comes to strengthening Cyprus’ maritime cluster?

From the first day of assuming office, I have embarked on a truly unique journey with many milestones and I feel very proud to have contributed to the development of Cyprus shipping.

At the Deputy Ministry of Shipping, our highest goal is to provide top-quality services to the shipping industry. To this end, the commencement of the One-Stop Shipping Centre from our headquarters was, indeed, a milestone.

Another major achievement is that, after many years, we have at last managed to find a suitable state-owned plot of land for the construction of a new building that will satisfy the Deputy Ministry’s existing and future needs.

The establishment of the Advisory Committee for the Competitiveness and Quality Enhancement of the Cyprus Flag and the Advisory Committee for the competitiveness of the Cyprus Maritime Cluster is another important development, as these two bodies will provide consultation and enhance cooperation with the local maritime cluster.

Other major achievements include the approval by the Council of Ministers of the National Maritime Spatial Plan as well as the re-election of Cyprus to the Council of the IMO, despite the adverse challenges faced.

According to reports, the Deputy Ministry of Shipping continues to grapple with significant under-staffing issues, raising concerns about its operational effectiveness, due to the shortage of personnel, particularly ship inspectors. How do you plan to address this challenge?

This challenge has, unfortunately, existed for many years now, not only as regards the Deputy Ministry of Shipping but in all public services. My first concern from day one as Deputy Minister was to effectively manage these time-consuming procedures and I am very pleased that we are very close to recruiting a significant number of Marine Surveyors, aiming to enhance the technical expertise of the Deputy Ministry.

I would like to highlight that one of the main elements of our success is the remarkable effort made by our personnel while performing their duties. On the other hand, the digital transformation of the Deputy Ministry of Shipping will also contribute to the quality of the services provided to the public.

How would you assess the establishment of the One-Stop Shipping Centre? How will it enhance the Cypriot shipping industry?

The One-Stop Shipping Centre has been operational since last November and I feel very proud of this achievement. The Centre is yet another milestone, as it fulfils longstanding requests that have been made repeatedly and over many years by the shipping industry in Cyprus. The opening of the centre is one of many measures we are promoting, aiming to support the maritime industry. Our ultimate goal for the Centre is to be able to provide quality services to all shipping companies and to companies involved in shipping-related activities.

What are the potential economic impacts of the IMO’s environmental goals on Cyprus’ maritime industry and how can they be mitigated?

The IMO’s environmental goals could have substantial economic implications for our maritime industry as well as for the whole industry globally. These may include reduced investment in traditional shipping and shipbuilding sectors due to the higher costs required, at least initially, for compliance with the new regulations. For example, building and maintaining ships designed to meet new stricter emission standards is currently more expensive.

Highlighting the urgency of combating climate change, it is imperative for the shipping industry to contribute to these efforts. Cyprus is addressing these challenges by implementing newly enacted EU legislation, which includes a mix of technical and market-based measures. For instance, implementing policies that encourage the adoption of energy-efficient technologies and the use of low- or zero-carbon fuels is crucial. However, the transition faces initial hurdles and uncertainties due to the limited availability and high cost of alternative fuels and the absence of an alternative fuel standard, which may deter immediate investment. To mitigate these impacts, the Government is taking steps to create an enabling environment that supports the industry during this transition.

More specifically, we are offering tax relief for environmentally friendly ships flying the Cyprus flag, and providing funding for research into affordable and sustainable marine fuel alternatives. We are also designing educational programmes for our industry staff to become familiar with the new technologies. Furthermore, the Government is in the process of upgrading our ports’ infrastructure, with additions such as cold ironing and bunkering stations for alternative fuels.

However, as the industry adapts to the new environment, early adopters are likely to gain a competitive advantage. The shift away from reliance on fossil fuels is expected to offer long-term economic benefits, including reduced fuel costs as well as reduced penalties due to compliance with the new regulations. This proactive approach not only aligns with the IMO’s environmental objectives but also ensures the sustainability and resilience of the Cyprus maritime industry in a changing global landscape.

According to a study by the Global Maritime Forum and the All Aboard Alliance, women in the shipping industry face numerous challenges, from ill-fitting safety gear to slower career progression, and harassment. What changes would you like to see in the industry to better support women seafarers?

Cyprus is constantly working to promote diversity and gender equality. The new National Strategy for Gender Equality 2024-2026 has recently been approved by the Council of Ministers and all government authorities are taking the necessary steps to implement it.

Since my appointment, I have been actively involved in supporting women in shipping and promoting the goal of gender equality, particularly as a speaker at shipping conferences in Cyprus and abroad. As part of the promotion of gender equality, various actions are being carried out by the Deputy Ministry of Shipping to encourage more women to join the shipping industry, creating a supportive environment and providing training and mentoring opportunities.

Among others, we have recently established the Gender Equality Award in Cyprus Shipping to be awarded annually to individuals who have made a significant contribution to the promotion of gender equality in shipping. In cooperation with the Commissioner for Gender Equality, an action plan has been created, which includes as a first step the mapping of the needs of women working in shipping. An important international recognition of our efforts was the decision of the IMO to award the first IMO Gender Equality Award to the Cyprus candidate. We are proud that Cyprus is the first country to receive this award.

Additionally, we provide scholarships to students at maritime academies across the country and we are committed to further expanding scholarship programmes specifically tailored for women, and to facilitating access to prestigious maritime universities dedicated to promoting diversity and gender inclusion in the maritime sector. Although there is still progress to be made, all the actions and initiatives that have been implemented to promote gender equality are steps in the right direction and we will continue to work to achieve our goals.

How are the current geopolitical tensions in Ukraine and the Middle East affecting the local shipping industry and the stability of the European maritime sector in general? What role can Cyprus play in addressing these tensions?

We live in a constantly evolving environment and, as a global industry, shipping is more vulnerable to volatile geopolitical developments. The past years have proven unpredictable and shipping continues to face unprecedented challenges. The tensions in Ukraine and, more recently, the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea as well as unrest in the Middle East have impacted shipping and seaborne trade. These developments have adversely affected the shipping industry worldwide, leading to changes in shipping patterns which have increased the distances travelled for commodities, with a consequential impact on the environment.

During these difficult times, the Deputy Ministry of Shipping has played a leading role in tackling these challenges and overcoming any difficulties. The Government is making every effort at EU level to ensure fair competition and minimise the negative effects on Cyprus shipping. The shipping industry in Cyprus has proved to be resilient and the close cooperation of the public and private sectors has been instrumental in dealing with such problems. We believe that the right way forward is to turn challenges into opportunities and, in this respect, the Cyprus maritime administration is taking effective measures to support the country’s resilient maritime cluster.

We are optimistic that the steps taken to promote Cyprus shipping and enhance the competitiveness of the Cyprus flag will further enhance the position of Cyprus in global shipping.

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