FML Ship Management’s Sunil Kapoor looks at the changes taking place across the Cypriot shipping sector, while Cyprus’ shipping deputy minister, Vassilios Demetriades, explains how the country plans to vaccinate its seafaring community
Seafarers have been particularly hard hit during the Covid-19 pandemic because in the eyes of many, “They don’t belong to any nationality because they are mobile.” This is the view of Cyprus’ shipping deputy ministry Vassilios Demetriades, who realised early on in the crisis that seafarers would find themselves in limbo and as such granted them key worker status. As such, Cyprus managed to facilitate around 11,000 to 12,000 crew changes and repatriations, a remarkable feat considering Cyprus is not generally regarded as a crew change hub. “We were able to do this after we managed to convince the government crew change was a priority,” said Mr Demetriades. “We dedicated a lot of our resources to facilitate crew change and we continue to do so.”
Another initiative that has come via Mr Demetriades concerns the roll-out of vaccines for seafarers. It is unfortunate, but a reality, that each nation will prioritise its own nationals, and those at sea will be last in the queue. “The vaccination of seafarers should be a priority,” said Mr Demetriades.
His proposal is to split the seafaring community into two groups: coastal shipping and deep-sea. The deep-sea group includes those seafarers that are at sea for two weeks or more. This group is essentially in a ‘bubble’ and the focus should therefore be on seafarers ashore. Cyprus suggests a co-ordinated global approach to ensure adequate numbers of approved or authorised vaccines, acceptable to all governments, are available to seafarers for inoculation in their country of residence before they travel to join their respective ships.
Mr Demetriades explained: “Despite international and EU efforts to date, crew changes are still very difficult, or not possible in many countries. A global seafarer vaccination programme would greatly assist the enhancement of crew changes. While we recognise that this is a complex issue in terms of both procedures and logistics, we believe that, by working together, a practical, feasible solution can be found.”
“The vaccination of seafarers should be a priority”
He continued: “Cyprus is determined to work constructively towards the deployment of a global seafarer vaccination programme in the most efficient way, and is willing to be involved in discussions to determine a co-ordinated approach. We hope that regulators and industry alike will be willing to join us.” Mr Demetriades has presented the plan to various authorities, including the EU and IMO.
The Cypriot economy has benefitted over the years from the boom in shipping, but was hit hard by the 2008 financial crisis. FML Ship Management director and general manager Sunil Kapoor said: “For the five-year period between 2003 and 2008, the shipping industry enjoyed one of the most prosperous times in its history. The economic collapse in September 2008 is considered by many economists to have been the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. The financial crisis in Cyprus hit around 2013, when the national haircut took place. Since then, the economy did bounce back (relatively quickly) but there was never a return to the pre-crisis growth path and as things were getting even better over the last couple of years, unfortunately, the pandemic brought yet another crisis.”
Continued Mr Kapoor: “For a few years after the haircut in Cyprus things were hard, as investors (in all sectors including shipping) were afraid and lost their trust in the Cyprus economy. I must admit that the Cyprus government put a lot of efforts into reversing this and it succeeded.”
He praised the government for taking positive steps to renew confidence, noting that with the establishment of the Shipping Deputy Ministry, the maritime sector started to flourish again, bringing more shipping companies and investment into the country.
The banking sector has played its part, too: “Cyprus banks only entered the market about five years ago, and since then they’ve made progress in shipping finance, building a regular niche clientele,” said Mr Kapoor. “Much of the business has come from Greece, but there have been clients from every major shipping fleet. Cyprus banks are involved into all types of projects, second-hand and newbuildings, but much of their dealings are with small- and medium-sized shipowners.”
Mr Kapoor said that decarbonisation is also an issue for owners and shipmanagers in Cyprus. “Dual-fuel engines are becoming increasingly prevalent in the build of new vessels, since they are more environmentally friendly than other alternatives,” he said. “We also have a series of newbuilding orders with vessels fitted with second-generations gas injection engines and Wärtsilä two-stroke dual-fuel XDF engines.”
FML is also supervising the construction of LNG-powered vessels. Mr Kapoor noted: “LNG is a viable alternative available for shipping to reach IMO 2030 and we will look to build more LNG vessels in the next few years.”
“ESG issues are a crucial part of our investment process. They affect the way we invest and where we invest”
That said, the company is open to other alternatives, such as renewable methanol-, hydrogen- or ammonia-powered ships, when available.
Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) is taken seriously in Cyprus and by FML. “ESG issues are a crucial part of our investment process. They affect the way we invest and where we invest,” said Mr Kapoor. “Last year, we doubled down on our investment in technology. Digitalisation of processes, communication and information sharing have been critical to the continuity of maritime operations during the pandemic. Digitalisation has emerged as a vital component of supply-chain resilience-building efforts.”
Looking ahead, Mr Kapoor noted: “While we cannot overlook the challenges of the pandemic, we must also be mindful of the existing long-term challenges facing our industry. These include the need to decarbonise and explore the viability of new alternative fuels. In 2019, Fleet signed the Global Maritime Forum pledge to support decarbonisation and affirm our commitment to this issue.”
Fleet has taken practical and positive actions on ESG. In 2020, it started the ‘Gifting a Green Life’ project, which adopts a rural livelihood plantation model and looks to plant fruit bearing medicinal saplings on the fields of marginalised farmers in rural areas across India.
“So far, we have planted 10,000 saplings that when they grow, will have the power to generate an estimated 19,980 tonnes of oxygen. Further, they would produce around 717 tonnes of fruits, equating to an economic value of US$0.25M for farmers,” Mr Kapoor said.