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The best registries take pride in their customer service and digital savvy.

file photo
file photo

By Wendy Laursen 12-27-2019 12:00:00

(Article originally published in July/Aug 2019 edition.)

In updating its flag state performance table this year, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) noted ongoing improvement. Among the 12 largest flag states, responsible for 80 percent of world tonnage, none has more than one negative indicator and nine have no negative indicators at all.

The purpose of the performance table, along with the various white/gray/black MoU lists, is to encourage shipowners to strike a balance between commercial advantage and the use of flags that don't fully adhere to international obligations. For the registries, the lists are a measure of the customer service they provide.

Perfect Rating

The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) Registry earned a perfect rating in the ICS’s latest table, the only one of the top three registries to achieve a positive score in every category. It boasts other key achievements as well, retaining a high ranking on the Paris and Tokyo MoU white lists and receiving Qualship 21 status from the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) for the 15th consecutive year.

RMI is also committed to tackling the issue of corruption, and its joint submission to the IMO led to an anti-corruption agenda being established. It recently joined the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network and is fully supportive of its activities.

Bill Gallagher, President of International Registries (RMI’s parent company), says: “It’s a point of pride that we’ve been able to consistently raise the benchmarks for quality and service delivery significantly. Looking ahead, we will continue to strengthen our global teams, improve our customer service and develop our digital offerings. We also expect to be kept busy at the IMO, particularly in addressing the issue of decarbonization. We will continue to ensure the RMI delegation to the IMO is supported by professionals during deliberations, doing our part to ensure that regulation is practical, achievable, enforceable and fair.”

Gallagher notes that his team has been busy helping shipowners prepare for IMO’s 2020 sulfur regulations in order to avoid detentions associated with incorrect fuel use: “We expect some challenges ahead in the coming months,” and he is not alone in that view.

Smart Technology

“My frequent talks with shipowners bring out the same point at every meeting,” says Panos Kirnidis, CEO of Palau International Ship Registry (PISR). “It’s the value they place on the interactions and work we do for their captains and crew. From the start of 2020, the involvement of Port State Control (PSC) in fuel-related matters could see a significant rise in detentions.”

PISR is doing its part to prevent that.

“In an age of digital transformation, we need to provide owners and operators with smart technology,” Kirnidis says. “In 2017, we launched our unique Deficiency Prevention System, a dedicated service providing support to prevent deficiencies and detentions. We operate a dedicated department within PISR that monitors the location and destination of Palau-flagged vessels and analyzes with over 93 percent confidence their risk performance and priority for inspection by a PSC officer. These inspections naturally place the captain, the crew and the owners under great pressure. We believe this pressure is often counter-productive and, as a registry heavily invested in digital operations, we’ve taken steps to ease these burdens.”

In the latest figures from the USCG, PISR recorded an overall 0.00 percent detention record, and Kirnidis is proud of its success as the world's fastest-growing ship registry.

“With the development of PISR as a smart registry,” he explains, “we have invested in our unique customized Web solution, ePISR, where we process all the applications and workflows accessible by different levels of industry stakeholders. With our system, the shipowner and manager have the power on their smartphone, laptop or desktop to process all their ship and seafarer-related inquiries, and ePISR instantly distributes the inquiry to the proper users within PISR. Upon completion of the process, the system instantly produces our regulated eCertificates, which reach the vessel within seconds.”

Paper certificates are giving way to digital alternatives, he says, but the correct use of technology is not to cut corners but to offer the shipping community services that retain the human element. “Talking to PISR will always involve talking to a real human being,” Kirnidis proudly adds.

Managing Director of the Bahamas Maritime Authority (BMA), Captain Dwain Hutchinson, sees outstanding customer service as topping the list of the flag's priorities, and any technology that can facilitate that mission, promote safety and maintain the highest regulatory standards is warmly embraced. For example, the Bahamas Online Registration Information System enables registered users to electronically submit secure applications and documentation for all seafarers employed or about to be employed on board Bahamian-registered ships.

“The system has been a great success,” he says, “so much so that we are extending it to other areas of the business, giving customers much more control as well as real-time engagement with the organization. We’re very much focused on how we can utilize technology to better serve our customers worldwide. That said, we must make sure that any system we develop or implement is robust and secure. Security is a priority.”

For the 17th consecutive year, BMA has been included on the Paris MoU white list and this year moved up six places, securing the number two spot. The recent opening of a BMA office in Japan is part of a strategic drive to proactively support shipowners and stakeholders in-country. “This has been supplemented and enhanced by the delivery of our regional seminars,” he adds, “which focus on the emerging regulations that will impact ship operations.”

Hutchinson also cites the 2020 sulfur regulations as posing some challenges for shipowners: “Consistent interpretation and application of the global standards set by IMO is essential to ensuring a level playing field for all stakeholders as we focus on the common objective of safe and secure shipping on clean oceans.”

He says BMA actively listens to customers to understand their challenges and takes that intelligence to the regulatory forums at the IMO and ILO to shape regulations that can be effectively implemented: “This collaborative approach means we have a deep understanding of how regulations will affect our shipowners and enables us to shape both our policies and our portfolio of services to make sure their ships can trade without delays.”

Expanding Eligibility

Katy Wares, newly appointed leader of the U.K. Ship Register, also prioritizes communication with shipowners. The Register is currently expanding its ownership eligibility beyond the U.K. and Europe to include Commonwealth countries: “We are investing time in listening to our domestic and international customers and gathering extensive feedback, which will inform our longer-term priorities. We have a vision to become a much more customer-centric organization without compromising the high standards of safety that the U.K. flag has proudly represented over many years.”

Wares also serves as Director of Maritime Safety and Standards at the Maritime & Coastguard Agency and as Permanent Representative of the U.K. to the IMO, so she brings a wealth of experience and contacts to her new position.

She ticks off some of the benefits of U.K. flag membership: 24/7 dedicated account managers, flexible package fee options and a system for bareboat charter whereby ships can temporarily reflag. Her immediate priorities include integrating the U.K. Ship Register with the Directorate of Maritime Safety and Standards.

“Some customers choose the U.K. flag as a benchmark to mitigate risk,” she notes. “They believe the surveys provided by the U.K. flag afford a higher technical capability that assures they will be in a good position when vetted or inspected elsewhere in the world. With the support of wider government, we are able to support our customers anywhere in the world. We have great talent across our agency and want to bring people together to harness their combined skills and create one fully aligned team.”

The Bermuda Shipping and Maritime Authority expanded its eligibility requirements in July to permit owners in most major jurisdictions, including companies incorporated in the U.S., Canada, Marshall Islands and Liberia, to register ships in Bermuda. The authority is planning to reduce its fees based on the number of ships registered and also if the owning company is established in Bermuda.

CEO Francis Richardson sees opportunities to digitalize certificates and use blockchain to support the validation and historical record of ship and mortgage registration. The audit process may be facilitated by increased connectivity between ship and shore. “We are presently reviewing the application of all these technologies,” he notes. “The most immediate development will be increased digitalization of documents.”

Richardson notes the importance of being on white lists as reputation becomes increasingly important: “In today’s world, government authorities, financiers, investors, media and the public focus increasingly on the reputation of a jurisdiction for good governance and compliance with international standards. Bermuda has an excellent reputation as a well-regulated financial center and a hospitable location to visit with good connectivity, being two-hours flight time from the U.S. We see this as a significant differentiator.”

Both Bermuda and the U.K. joined the Marshall Islands and the Bahamas in receiving perfect ratings on the ICS flag state performance table this year.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.