The Marshall Islands Registry, with more than 4,700 registered vessels and more than 100,000 seafarers serving aboard our ships, has both the technical and administrative adequacy, so that in the midst of the crisis caused by the pandemic, it can "allow the world’s ships to continue sailing" Mr. Theofilos Xenakoudis, CEO of Piraeus IRI Office and Director of Worldwide Business Operations, points out in an interview with maritimes.gr.
He refers to the actions taken by the registry in the serious matter of ship inspections. He speaks about the implementation of the "IMO 2020" regulation, emphasizing that in IRI’s Greek office "our expert team is on hand to provide advice and guidance", as well as the presence of the Registry in IMO regarding the formation of regulations.
Mr Xenakoudis also refers to the requirements of the EU Regulation on Ship Recycling (EUSRR) and the new IHM verification service launched by the Registry at the end of last year, while for the Greek office he stresses that“During these challenging and uncertain times, we continue to help our owners and operators.”
1) Please tell us about the measures which have been taken by the Marshall Islands Registry regarding the current serious pandemic. How has the crisis affected proper functioning and how do you address problems?
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is having a profound impact on the maritime industry. While we cannot escape the economic impact of reduced consumer demand and stretched supply chains, as a flag State we can try to minimize the pressures placed on vessel operations by acting pragmatically.
As one of the largest ship registries in the world, with more than 4,700 vessels flying the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) flag and a community of nearly 100,000 seafarers serving aboard our ships, it’s vital that we continue to operate efficiently , to allow the world’s ships to continue sailing.
Thanks to the decentralized structure of International Registries, Inc and its affiliates, which provide administrative and technical support to the RMI Maritime and Corporate Registries, we are easily able to provide the technical and administrative support that ship owners and managers need to keep their ships running without interruption. Many of our team members, including those based in Piraeus, are working remotely, yet we maintain our full capability to assist clients throughout the world. Each of our 28 worldwide offices has full authority to assist clients in technical and administrative matters, so we are able to adapt our processes and procedures to local requirements to ensure clients always receive the direct support they need. Our network of technical experts is spread around the world, so a ship closing in one country does not impact a client’s access to technical support or administrative services.
As travel restrictions began to impact shipping, we issued a Marine Safety Advisory (MSA) 13-20 describing our Temporary Alternative Inspection Protocols in force during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we created a dedicated webpage for updates regarding COVID-19. This webpage, www.register-iri.com/covid-19/, is an important source of information, and I urge owners and operators to check the site routinely.
On the commercial side of the business, the pandemic has changed how shipping operates, but it hasn’t changed our flexible and solutions-driven team. We have hosted closings via video conference, working closely with law firms, clients, and banks. By enacting emergency powers under the Maritime Act, the Maritime Administrator is able to use virtual contingency plans to complete vessel transaction closings seamlessly.
2) How ship inspections have been affected?
It is critical that we maintain a robust inspection regime. At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic means that it is not always possible to conduct inspections using the same methodology as we have in the past.
The RMI Registry is allowing for alternative inspection arrangements when an in-person inspection is not possible. In such circumstances, the regional Fleet Operations Manager will review the performance history of the vessel and the company, and will decide whether to reschedule the inspection for a later date or conduct the inspection remotely with crew interaction.
For ship surveys and statutory inspections, we are urging ship operators to make every effort to ensure that certificates are valid using physical and remote survey techniques where possible. However, we recognize that there may be issues in securing dry-docks and repair facilities, receiving essential equipment, and organizing servicing technicians. We have made adjustments to account for these challenges during this pandemic.
In the unlikely case where neither physical attendance nor a remote survey can be organized, then the Recognized Organization (RO) may recommend a grace period of up to three months—and though we cannot guarantee that every port State control (PSC) will accept extended certificates, this evidence may be shown to PSC.
We anticipate that once global travel restrictions are lifted, these measures will be adjusted.
3)The Marshall Islands Registry has a significant market share in cruise ships and large yachts, which have been affected by the current pandemic. How do you cope with this?
Although passenger vessels have currently suspended their worldwide operations, cruise ships and yachts are subject to the same issues, rules, and regulations as the cargo fleet. Crews need to be changed, vessels need to be inspected, and documentation needs to be provided. In this regard, we are providing personal and direct support to our clients that have both large and small vessels in this sector on a case-by-case basis. In anticipation for resuming their operations later this year, the cruise sector is currently developing plans and protocols to adequately address illness, such as COVID-19, onboard, which will include procedures for isolation, quarantine, and medical evacuation. These plans will be submitted to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for approval.
It is expected that the cruise sector will likely begin their operations slowly, starting with a few vessels and will likely focus on shorter itineraries with fewer destinations.
4) Let’s focus on the seafarer, the weak link at this stage, but the most important one in the maritime transport chain. Are there any actions you have taken to support them?
While most countries have insisted on keeping global shipping lanes and ports open, in many instances they are implementing measures to restrict crewmembers from coming onshore or traveling over land. These restrictions are essentially forcing seafarers to remain onboard, which may pose significant safety risks and impact their physical and mental health should their time on board be longer than expected. We know that ship operators and managers of vessels are doing their utmost to support the crew, but they are constrained by national rules and regulations, which can change quickly.
The RMI Registry has written to various international authorities urging them to recognize and protect seafarers as “key transport workers” as defined by the United Kingdom. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has requested that governments do the same, and we are beginning to see more countries take up this advice. However, what is required is a united global response.
While we continue to advocate on this issue, we are also working closely with the maritime community to protect the safety and wellbeing of crew onboard, and to put measures in place wherever possible to mitigate the risk of crew catching COVID-19. We are also advising operators and managers as to what must be done wherever there are suspected or confirmed cases onboard.
5) But we are also at the beginning of the implementation of the new regulations, and in particular of the 'IMO 2020' regulation on the reduced emissions from shipping. How do you view the implementation? Are you pleased? How does the Registry monitor the progress?
Progress is monitored through PSC inspections and enforcement is stringent. This includes enforcement of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) Annex VI, the regulation prohibiting carriage of non-compliant fuel oil that came into force in March. We worked closely with ship owners 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 that the transition has been well managed.
Again, COVID-19 does cause some challenges, so ship operators are urged to remain vigilant regarding potential fuel oil quality and availability issues worldwide in the event of unforeseen supply disruptions. The RMI Maritime Administrator assesses Fuel Oil Non-Availability Reports (FONAR) on a case-by-case basis. 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. After all, the more we know, the more we can do to help.
6) What is the role of the Registry in the IMO in terms of drafting regulations?
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 that regulations can be applied practically and deliver the intended benefits. The RMI delegation participates in numerous IMO working groups, committees, and subcommittee 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. As most people are aware, the IMO has postponed its meetings up through the month of June. Their press page is a useful resource during these times.
7) What does the recently launched IHM Verification Service mean for the Marshall Islands 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.
8) Tell us about the support provided by the Marshall Islands Registry to shipowners, ship managers and your future plans
The Piraeus team has full authority to issue dispensations, answer technical questions, handle flag and PSC inspections, and process seafarers’ documentation - every aspect of flag State support and vessel registration. With an average of 1,200 documents processed each month, the seafarers’ team is kept particularly busy undertaking the rigorous checks and validations needed to issue seafarers’ documentation.
During these challenging and uncertain times, we continue to help our owners and operators adapt to the rapidly changing situation while operating to the highest standards of safety and best practices. In April, the RMI Registry was awarded the United States Coast Guard’s QUALSHIP21 qualification for the 16th consecutive year, a qualification that speaks for the flag’s proven track record for quality and long-term focus on these standards.
Approximately one-third of all QUALSHIP21 certified vessels, a badge of a high-quality ship, are flying the RMI flag. We hope to grow our fleet further, and to maintain our excellent PSC detention ratio, which is a key reason we are the flag of choice for Greek owners. They know that by flying the RMI flag, they represent the highest quality safety standards in the industry and receive knowledgeable, reliable support no matter the situation.