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Natasa Pilides: We will Continue to Take Cyprus Shipping Forward

Natasa Pilides: We will Continue to Take Cyprus Shipping Forward

On March 1, 2018 Natasa Pilides was appointed as Cyprus’ first dedicated Shipping Deputy Minister, reporting directly to the President. She spoke to The Maritime Executive about the state's new governance and its shipping future.


How is the Cyprus government's oversight of the shipping sector changing?

The Deputy Ministry is the successor body to the Department of Merchant Shipping (DMS) which brings a strong 40-year heritage for us to develop for Cyprus’ shipping sector. This provides a solid foundation that we will continue to build on in taking Cyprus shipping forward into a new era. The team at the Deputy Ministry have the necessary knowledge and expertise to support our clients and to contribute to the significant expansion of the shipping sector, which in turn will aid the continued growth of the Cyprus economy. 

The transformation of the Department of Merchant Shipping to a Shipping Deputy Ministry has already increased the functionality, effectiveness and flexibility of our public shipping administration, with a direct and immediate effect in the further development and expansion of both our flag and our maritime cluster.

The ultimate goal is to strengthen Cyprus shipping and its consolidation as an advanced global shipping service center. We will achieve this through flexibility and speed of decision-making, the improvement and upgrading of state services provided, the promotion of the Cyprus flag and the strengthening of the cooperation with the private stakeholders involved.


What do you bring to your new role?

The E.U. continues to develop its understanding of shipping’s contribution to Europe’s economy. For Cyprus, it’s important for us to expand the range of services we offer, including shipping finance, insurance, brokerage, the logistics sector and advances in digital services. Cyprus is particularly keen to encourage start-ups, and not only in shipping, with a start-up visa program encouraging innovators from the E.U. and outside to launch start-ups in Cyprus.

Prior to being appointed Shipping Deputy Minister to the President of the Republic, I was Director General of the Cyprus Investment Promotion Agency (Invest Cyprus). As Director General, I was responsible for promoting Cyprus, supporting investors and to making Cyprus more business friendly in all important areas and business sectors. I represented and promoted Cyprus as an investment destination abroad and have wide-ranging business experience across multiple sectors including shipping. 


What are your goals and passions?

Investing in education is one of the keys to future success, and we maintain a strong focus on encouraging students to take up careers in the maritime space. Three maritime academies and several universities in Cyprus provide maritime courses covering the full spectrum of blue careers and are already yielding results, with high-caliber human talent entering the maritime sector not just in Cyprus but internationally. As a Deputy Ministry we offer scholarships, as well as grants to cadets for their onboard training. 

One of the functions of the Deputy Ministry is to collaborate with the schools and support in the development of courses and training programs, as well as to accredit, monitor and continuously evaluate the marine academies under our supervision, which include more than 10 academies in Cyprus and abroad. 

We are also strong supporters of a number of research and innovation initiatives, some of which are seeking funding from the E.U. and the Cyprus government. We strongly believe that the growing relationship between the private sector and academia will add to the know-how and expertise already available in Cyprus, where around 5,000 people are employed in the maritime sector onshore, and around 55,000 seafarers work aboard Cyprus-flagged ships.

As the shipping industry continues to transform, key for Cyprus is finding ways to stay nimble and easily accommodate change, and the success of this will rely heavily on the next generation of seafarers and maritime professionals. 


Cyprus is a global hub for shipping, ship management and crewing. How do you view the scene at present?

With great confidence. Cyprus now ranks as the eleventh largest merchant fleet worldwide and the third largest fleet in the European Union. We flag over 1,000 oceangoing vessels with a total gross tonnage exceeding 23.9 million. More than 3,500 vessels are currently managed from Cyprus with a total net tonnage of around 50 million. 

We welcome more companies expanding their presence here, choosing Cyprus and its strong maritime cluster as a location for offices and headquarters, in tandem with growing the number of ships under the Cyprus flag. Many companies are looking to establish a strong presence in Cyprus as we offer a great combination of highly qualified professionals, a good quality of life, cheaper cost of living and a very highly respected flag. Location, finance and people are individually strong threads, brought together under dedicated government support that will create the fabric that is Cyprus maritime. 

A further exciting prospect arises from the discovery of hydrocarbons which underpins Cyprus’ potential to develop into an important energy center in the Mediterranean. Supporting services already well established in Cyprus include transportation ashore, operation of specialized ships and equipment and the supply of specialized support services. Interest from companies involved in the sector for port infrastructure to offer these services is already increasing, while all oil and gas majors have already created strong presence in Cyprus. The recent privatization of the country’s main commercial port has also contributed to this growth. 


What changes do you foresee in the business environment of Cyprus?

Shipping and ship management activities contribute around seven percent to the economy in terms of Cyprus’ gross domestic product (GDP), and employs around 5,000 people onshore and alongside our 55,000 seafarers. Beyond that, we know that the impact that maritime has on the economy can and will increase, based on the strong growth of the flag and cluster. A number of companies from Europe and Asia have recently announced their plans to relocate or create presence in Cyprus, and we hope that more will follow. 

The support of the banking industry in Cyprus to invest in shipping is crucial. All of the major banks are involved and committed, recruiting teams from abroad and from Cyprus, to combine local and international expertise. We also have a relatively new (since 2013) package of legislation regarding investment funds. We’ve had our first shipping funds registered in Cyprus recently, and there is growing interest for several more. Legislation has been introduced that will make the framework even more attractive for investment funds, and we fully expect this to be another area of growth.


Are there any new developments for the flag?

The Cyprus flag is a reputable E.U. flag and is included among the leading maritime flags worldwide. We are included in the White List of the Paris and Tokyo MoUs, and we offer a wide range of advantages to shipowners who register their vessels with us.
The key objective of the Deputy Ministry is to see Cyprus move into the top 10 rankings of global shipping registries. We are currently reviewing many ideas and plans that will facilitate this goal, including the adoption of a new Promotion Strategy, the evaluation of current incentives and the simplification and further automation of the applicable procedures for ship registration regarding both large and smaller vessels.


What do you see as the most important challenges for the industry?

Cyprus welcomes the recent adoption of the initial IMO strategy for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from ships. We are of the view that the initial IMO strategy is ambitious, but at the same time realistic and achievable.

Following the adoption of the initial IMO strategy, work has already begun on the development of a program of follow-up actions from the initial strategy, mapping out a practical route to achieve this significant reduction in GHG emissions from ships. Cyprus believes that specific action should be taken in order to achieve the objectives agreed by all parties, both in terms of short-term and longer-term measures, and we will actively participate in this procedure, both in defining the strategy at IMO level, but also in working towards the practical steps needed for the implementation of the strategy. 


The interview was first published on The Maritime Executive.


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