Theofilos K. Xenakoudis
Director, Worldwide Business Operations
Managing Director-Piraeus, Greece
International Registries, Inc.
Interview to John Megariotis
Will you provide a current overview of the RMI Registry? How many different vessel types make up the registry? Are there any trends in the type of vessels registering in the last few years?
The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) Registry is recognized worldwide as a high-quality registry. With 16 consecutive years of Qualship 21 recognition, and white list status on both the Tokyo and Paris MoUs, the Registry is proud of its reputation. International Registries, Inc. and its affiliates (IRI), provides administrative and technical support to the Registry through a network of 28 worldwide offices. In recent years we have seen an increase across all vessel types, particularly our gas carrier fleet and have a particularly young and green fleet.
Fleet data (30 April 2020)
At a time where the industry is facing so many challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic, what role does the flag State play?
With or without a global pandemic, the role of a flag State is to ensure the implementation and enforcement of international regulations for the ships which fly its flag. At the same time, the flag State is there to provide administrative and technical support to the owners, operators, and crews which use the flag. With COVID-19 disrupting shipping operations, it is the role of the flag State to provide practical solutions to ensure the continued movement of global trade.
COVID-19 has been a major disruptor across global markets, particularly in the maritime market, but one that we can manage. Global trade is critical to the world’s economy and ships are still trading goods and moving around the world thanks to collaboration and cooperation between governments, ports, shipowners, operators, and especially seafarers. IRI was built as a decentralized organization. Before the COVID-19 crisis, each of our 28 worldwide offices had full capability to assist clients and make decisions. Technical and marine safety experts are spread around the world, which means as restrictions and closures are enacted and lifted around the world, we are able to allow work to be continuous and proceed without interruption. With the emergency powers enacted under the RMI Maritime Act, we can also use virtual contingency plans to seamlessly complete vessel transactions.
The most significant disruption has been with crew changes, specifically the restrictions placed on getting crew both on and off the vessels safely as well as their onward home travel. Crew members are worried about their families and want to go home at the end of their contracts, but that requires a lot of coordination between governments and the industry. Early on the RMI put its support behind the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the global movement to have countries identify seafarers as key transport workers to help facilitate crew changes. Travel restrictions have not only impacted crew, but also the many people who need to board vessels to support safe vessel operations. These include the nautical inspectors who are critical to ensuring compliance with national and international regulations. The RMI recognizes that it is vital to maintain a robust inspection regime; for without inspections, the ships, their crews, and the wider environment are put at risk. Therefore, the RMI Registry issued Marine Safety Advisory 17-20, which allows for temporary alternative inspection arrangements when an in-person inspection is not possible.
The key role of any flag State is to develop international regulations at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and ensure that the ships within their registries are following said regulations. How do member states engage with IMO during the pandemic?
There has been a regular and ongoing dialogue with the IMO throughout the pandemic, but all further meetings have been cancelled through June. IMO is preparing a a revised meeting program for the remainder of 2020.
A priority list of meetings will be considered by the IMO Council at its 32nd extraordinary session that is currently being held by correspondence.
The RMI’s delegation to the IMO is supported by professional staff who contribute to the discussion of issues affecting safety, security, and environmental protection by providing subject matter expertise.
An important part of our role is to ensure regulations can be applied practically and deliver the intended benefits. The RMI delegation participates in the numerous IMO working groups, committees, and sub-committee meetings, are well placed to offer insight and expertise, and can contribute constructively to the drafting of regulations. We, in turn, support owners and operators of vessels in our Registry to adapt to and comply with the regulations.
Before the coronavirus challenges, the industry was consumed with the transition to low Sulphur marine fuels in accordance with the IMO2020 regulations. How has this been managed within your fleet? What actions are being taken by the Registry to support the transition?
Progress is monitored through port State control (PSC) inspections, and enforcement is stringent. This includes enforcement of the MARPOL Annex VI which prohibits carriage of non-compliant fuel oil from 1 March 2020. We worked closely with shipowners and operators, alongside industry partners, in the lead up to the transition and we are very pleased to observe high levels of compliance. Overall, it appears the transition has been well managed.
COVID-19 does cause some challenges in the transition, so ship operators are urged to remain vigilant regarding potential fuel oil quality and availability issues worldwide. RMI will assess Fuel Oil Non-Availability Reports on a case-by-case basis. Also, the outbreak of COVID-19 created some problems with the completion of the installation of scrubbers on board ships in the shipyards. In Greece, our expert team is on hand to provide advice and guidance, should any issues occur, and we strongly recommend operators and managers get in touch as soon as they encounter difficulties. Afterall, the more we know, the more we can do to help.
What synergies and relationships does the RMI Registry have with key classification societies? How important is to for both flag and class organisations to work together? What areas of your business benefit from class collaboration?
The RMI Registry works only with the International Association of Classification Society members, authorizing them to conduct surveys and issue statutory certificates on its behalf on the basis of their structure, design, and safety standards. However, the RMI Registry also uses its own network of inspectors to ensure its obligations are being meet and has a program of quality control boardings (QCBs) to help ensure that vessels are not detained by PSC. Classification societies perform a vital role in ensuring the safety of shipping.
What does the recently launched IHM Verification Service mean for the RMI Registry and particularly shipowners?
As of 31 December 2020, non-European Union (EU) vessels calling at EU ports must carry an authorized Inventory of Hazardous Materials (IHM) and a Statement of Compliance (SoC). This a requirement of the EU Ship Recycling Regulation (EUSRR), which is aimed at ensuring that ships, when being recycled, do not pose any unnecessary risk to human health and safety or to the environment. To support shipowners in meeting EUSRR requirements, the RMI Registry launched a new IHM verification service late last year.
Preparing an IHM requires considerable planning and coordination. Utilizing our team to verify the IHM and issue the SoC allows owners and operators to complete the process in a more streamlined manner, and to provide assurances of the quality of the inspection and testing. These are complex regulations, and owners are urged to take this seriously. While this regulation is primarily aimed at managing risk at the recycling stage, the SoC must be maintained for the entire lifecycle of the vessel.
What are IRI’s main goals and objectives for the future?
Our goals always remain the same: ensuring the safety of ships and the people that work on them and protection of the environment. RMI’s IMO delegation will continue its detailed and high-level work on the development of new regulations across all areas of the maritime industry. These include, but are not limited to, areas as diverse as measures to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from shipping, the carriage of dangerous goods, use of electronic certificates, measures to tackle aquatic invasive species, and reducing marine plastic litter, among others.
We will continue to invest in people and technology to ensure our global network of 28 worldwide offices continues to provide 24/7 service, take a proactive approach to customer service, and provide shipowners with the support they need.