Playing an Active Role

Interview with ECSA President Philippos Philis

Philippos Philis, President of the European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA) talks about how the shipping industry has been impacted by the events in Ukraine and explains what steps are being taken to overcome other obstacles within the industry.

How has the shipping sector been impacted by the war in Ukraine?
The shipping sector has been significantly impacted by the war in Ukraine. First of all, it is important to mention the severe impact that the war has had on the safety of our seafarers. At this moment, 500 seafarers still remain stranded on over 100 vessels in Ukrainian ports, down from 2,000 at the start of the war. Seafarers have been killed or injured since the start of the conflict. In addition, the different sanctions regimes worldwide and the fast pace at which they are being rolled out creates operational challenges as vessels and companies strive to comply and adapt to new rules. To give some examples, challenges include providing Ukrainian and Russian seafarers with access to their paid wages, organising crew changes and, of course, ensuring sanction compliance with import and export restrictions.

Is ECSA able to assist/guide its members through this complicated period and, if yes, how?
ECSA had been active on this since the start of the war, providing regular updates on the discussions at EU level and detailed analysis of the sanctions against Russia. As ECSA is an active partner to the European Commission on transport, trade, financial issues and other topics, it has been able to clarify questions on the implementation of the different sanction packages. Most importantly, however, ECSA is able to channel the views and concerns of the sector to the institutions with a view to finding solutions that ensure full compliance with the sanctions and limit the impact on seafarers. As an example, we have worked together with the European Transport Workers Federation and have initiated a dialogue with the European Commission on ways to facilitate the opening of bank accounts in Europe for Ukrainian seafarers currently onboard vessels.

How has the sector been adapting to relaxations to pandemic protocols in some parts of the world?
While the pandemic has caused a severe disruption in international trade flows and shipping logistics, causing financial pressure on shipping, it has kept operating and providing its high-standard and essential services to the world, by adapting its operations and successfully addressing the challenges associated with the pandemic restrictions. As such, current relaxations to the pandemic protocols create positive prospects for the shipping industry to return to its normal operation and, therefore, to continue and reinforce its important role in world trade and the economy. However, the shipping sector’s priority and main concern from the start of global restrictions, regarding the uninterrupted and safe movement of seafarers, is still there since parts of the world are again enforcing lockdowns in view of rising pandemic cases in certain countries.

The digitalisation of the shipping sector is well underway. How has staffing been affected? Will some jobs eventually become obsolete as, perhaps, new ones are created?
The shipping sector plays a vital role in the world economy, carrying 90% of world trade. Increased expectations and demand from customers are putting more pressure on shipping to become more efficient, greener and cost-effective. Human resources are the backbone of our industry on this digital transformation path and the key to maintaining an industry that continues to grow and evolve in a sustainable way is to provide shipping personnel with the proper training, so as to adapt to the new digital reality. As shipping becomes digitalised, it will shift the dynamics in the manning of ships but not necessarily in a negative way. Making ships greener and smarter will also create new job opportunities, skilling and reskilling the human element in shipping.

Has there been progress on the chronic challenge of attracting top talent to the shipping sector?
Attracting highly educated and trained professionals is still a challenge and it is crucial to overcome it, not only for the shipping industry itself but for the entire Cyprus Maritime Cluster, which in turn is vital to the economic and social interests of Cyprus. Within this framework, we should emphasize the importance and the need to create an even more diversified and inclusive working environment to attract first-rate maritime professionals, irrespective of gender or cultural background. We also need to work harder to educate and train young people who have a keen interest in professions linked to the maritime sector, as well as the need to urgently recognize that modern maritime training is the key that will bring talented professionals into the shipping sector and enable it to maintain its pace of progress and expansion.

Returning to technology, what steps are being taken to combat related concerns such as cybersecurity?
The shipping sector has grown more cautious about cyber risk in recent years as operations are largely dependent on computer networks and information technology solutions. The increased frequency of attempted cyber-attacks has forced the industry to place more emphasis on, and investment in, developing contingency plans and precautionary measures to prevent a bigger issue from arising later. The most important factor in the success of these precautionary measures is the proper training of employees to implement the required security practices. Investing in cybersecurity awareness training and improving employees’ skillsets can create a robust security-aware culture and prevent attacks. Having a contingency plan in place is also extremely important when it comes to maritime operational security and safety. Being prepared and constantly updated on the type of threats and having a set of security procedures in place can prevent massive damage and reduce recovery time.

ECSA President Philippos Philis