Five Minutes with Polys Hajioannou

Interview with the CEO, Chairman & Director, Safe Bulkers
20 December 2021
Five Minutes with Polys Hajioannou
New technologies and sustainability are reshaping shipping operations and investment in an unprecedented way. How has Safe Bulkers responded to this challenge?
Safe Bulkers has been relentlessly, albeit silently, preparing for the next decade. We have taken action ahead of the competition by placing Environmental Social Responsibility at the very heart of our business strategy. We have embarked on an extensive ecological investment programme of $70 million, mainly focused on the early adoption of Ballast Water Treatment Systems and the installation of Sulphur Oxides (SOx) Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems (scrubbers) in half of our fleet – mainly on the higher DWT vessels – effectively reducing SΟx emissions to one fifth of the allowable limit. In parallel, we’ve set in motion our fleet renewal strategy and have already sold seven of our vessels and selectively acquired four Japanese second-hand vessels, whilst ordering eight Japanese newbuild vessels of the latest available technology, designed with energy- and power-saving features to meet the latest greenhouse gas emissions ‘EEDI, Phase 3’ requirements and comply with IMO’s NOx Tier III regulations.
The global autonomous ships market is expected to grow rapidly as companies resume their operations following the COVID-19 pandemic. What will this mean for seafarers? Will they be treated differently in the ‘new normal’?
Safe Bulkers was an early signatory to the Neptune declaration on seafarer and crew 
changes. We’ve played our part by absorbing the biggest part of the multiple crew change cost but seafarers service not only ship owners but cargo owners and society as a whole, which is why increased collaboration is required. IMO has been formulating the Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships regulatory framework since 2017 and has already approved interim guidelines for testing autonomous shipping. While many forecast labour cost savings, fewer human errors and the maximization of port capacity, there are many complexities to consider: the impact on employment, an overreliance on maritime digitalization, and geopolitical considerations, with China currently owning 95% of all patents related to autonomous transportation. Technology is changing shipping but, rather than eliminating the physical presence, we still need well-skilled seafarers on board who can take better informed technology-based decisions and repair vessels while at sea, keeping them highly efficient and their cargoes secure.
Increasing regulation in the shipping sector is challenging IT systems and investment. Are Cyprus’ shipping infrastructure and Safe Bulkers ready to deal with all the new requirements?
Safe Bulkers leads Cyprus shipping by example by ensuring that its IT infrastructure, cyber risks and the increasing dependency on IT procedures and controls onboard are appropriately addressed. Safe Bulkers is proud of being the largest ship-owner under the Cyprus registry and of the role that Cyprus shipping has played despite the uncertainties of the crisis. We have been enjoying this business environment since 2015, when the biggest part of our shipping management operations moved to Limassol. I always refer to the major advantages of the Cyprus Flag and of the Cyprus registry, such as the outstanding professionalism, administrative support and practicality and, of course, the IT infrastructure which enhances the responsiveness of the Deputy Ministry of Shipping in today’s fast-changing, competitive environment. 
What are Safe Bulkers’ long-term goals and aspirations?
We promote the Cyprus flag to other owners, and Limassol as the perfect maritime centre for relocating part of the ship owning activities of large European owners. 
To this end, we are eager to help develop local talent and focus on technical or engineering studies, which have been of little or no interest in the past. If we manage to implement this aim, other ship owning entities will be keen to relocate to the island and local young people will enjoy professional rewards two to three times higher than those offered by other sectors.
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