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‘We must continue to evolve’

Natasa Pilides, Cyprus’ first deputy shipping minister, has had a busy initial year-and-a-half in the most high-profile job in Cyprus shipping; but she is looking at the long-term needs of the industry

The maritime administration has been restructured; an intense promotional programme is supporting an overhauled Cyprus maritime brand; and online services have been launched that include electronic verification of registry certificates, an online seafarer’s certificate, the digitalisation of records and automating ship registration

“THESE 18 months have been very intensive,” says Natasa Pilides, a former director-general of Invest Cyprus, who was appointed to head the new deputy ministry of shipping created in March 2018.

In that time, she believes a lot has been achieved in terms of modernising the island’s shipping administration.

Ticking off some specifics, she says the maritime administration — which, before being upgraded to cabinet status, was the department of merchant shipping — has been restructured, according to best practices identified in an independent study.

The deputy ministry has already overhauled the Cyprus maritime brand and has begun to implement an intense promotional programme along with a new digital marketing strategy.

“A significant ongoing effort” to upgrade digital services includes relaunching of the deputy ministry’s website and launching online services that include electronic verification of registry certificates, an online seafarer’s certificate, the digitalisation of records and automating the ship registration process. 

“Undoubtedly, there is a strong link between digitalisation and competitiveness,” says Ms Pilides.

The updated registration policy aims to offer flexibility while ensuring quality and the registry is also updating its pricing policy to attract more oceangoing vessels.

The administration’s 24-hour service was recently enhanced and is said to be working “very efficiently”, based on feedback solicited from companies.

Cyprus is one of the few countries that can boast a successful international registry and, at the same time, has not neglected a genuine, thriving cluster.

However, safety remains a key focus.

“We have signed updated agreements with recognised organisations and we are enhancing our presence in our offices abroad, as well as our network of independent inspectors worldwide, in order to ensure that the highest standards are maintained,” says Ms Pilides.

To further develop the maritime sector, “it is important to provide all the right elements for the cluster to continue developing in a balanced and sustainable manner”, she says.

“This involves maintaining and safeguarding the stable, business–friendly framework available to foreign investors in shipping, but also embracing and encouraging innovation and blue growth.”

Ms Pilides recently spoke at the launch in Larnaca of the Cyprus Marine and Maritime Institute, which has secured about €40m ($44.3m) in funding from the Cyprus government, the EU and the private sector.

The goal is to establish a centre of excellence for research and innovation in the Eastern Mediterranean region, in collaboration with a number of universities, institutions, companies and organisations from Cyprus, the UK, the Irish Republic, the US and the surrounding region.

“Cyprus is a modern, efficient and integrated shipping cluster but to maintain success, it is imperative to further enhance education, research and innovation with a view to ensuring the sector’s sustainability. This is where CMMI comes in,” Ms Pilides says.

The new facility is intended to take a problem-solving approach to respond to real industrial and societal needs, at a global rather than just a national level.

Its contribution to jobs and investment in talent and infrastructure will strengthen Cyprus’ credentials as a maritime centre, she says.

At present, the administration is at an advanced stage of talks with the European Commission on prolonging the Cyprus tonnage tax system for a further 10-year period, Ms Pilides confirms.

At the same time, it is examining possible “further tax and other incentives, within the framework of EU regulations, in order to ensure that Cyprus remains at the edge of the competition as a shipping centre”.

While the island’s resident shipping community is international in scope, the deputy minister would also like to encourage more Cypriots into shipping.

“We are very proud to see many of our Cypriot shipowners thriving, not only in Cyprus but in the international arena, and this greatly contributes to the size and quality of the Cyprus registry and to the sophistication of Cyprus as a maritime cluster.

“We believe that the opportunities opening up in the energy sector will definitely offer a wider scope for shipowners active in Cyprus and, as a government, we certainly aim to continue enhancing our business-friendly environment and shipping expertise.”

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