A world of maritime services
With 28 global offices, International Registries, Inc. (IRI) is today considered as one of the world’s most experienced, privately held maritime and corporate registry service providers, specialising in the needs of the shipping and financial services industries across a broad commercial and economic spectrum.
Theofilos Xenakoudis, Managing Director and Director of Worldwide Business Operations, spoke to Inside Marine’s Daniel Barnes about the major shipping-related activities, challenges and conversations ongoing throughout the registry.
International Registries has been involved in flag state administration since 1948. What would you consider to be the registry’s biggest milestones in recent years?
For the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) Registry, and for International Registries, Inc. and its affiliates (IRI), which provide administrative and technical support to the RMI Maritime and Corporate Registries, breaking the registry duopoly that long existed has been a significant achievement. With more than 4,600 vessels on our registry, we’re proud not only of our growth, but also of our focus on quality and high standards.
We’ve become a leading shipping registry by being exacting in our standards and developing a reputation for acting responsibly. In doing so, we firmly believe that we have increased quality standards industry-wide.
How has the registry and the services you offer evolved over the decades?
Like the wider industry, IRI has changed significantly in the past few decades.
IRI has strengthened its global teams and enhanced the services it provides to customers, including digital offerings. We’ve done so by building technical expertise into every aspect of our business and operations, and by maintaining open and honest relationships with our clients and partners
Critical to our evolution has been our high level of engagement at the IMO. We allocate considerable resources to ensure a high level of technical expertise is brought to bear at every major IMO committee meeting. We then work with our owners, their crews, and industry stakeholders to ensure the entire vessel team is highly competent when it comes to compliance.
Please could you provide a current overview of current activities at IRI?
Our global team supports the RMI Registry through a broad spectrum of services, including vessel registration, seafarer documentation, mortgage and financing charter recordation, company incorporation, and of course, providing the highest level of customer service. Each of our 28 worldwide offices can fully assist clients, meaning no client must wait for business hours in a different time zone for help or support.
As of 31st August 2019, there were 4,607 vessels on the RMI ship registry, totalling 168 million gross tons (GT).
Most importantly, the RMI Registry has a record that speaks volumes. We have an exceptional Port State Control (PSC) record. We are on the Paris and Tokyo Memorandums of Understanding white lists and are currently rated as top flag by the International Chamber of Shipping.
We have also received Qualship 21 status from the United States Coast Guard (USCG) for 15 consecutive years which is something no other flag has achieved. Paired with our own robust inspection regime, training initiatives, and close working relationships with our owners and their crew means vessels flying our flag are far less likely to have deficiencies or to be detained.
How many different vessel types make up the registry? Have you seen a surge in any particular vessel type, or area of industry, register with the IRI in recent times, and if so, why is that?
The RMI registry includes bulk carriers, container vessels, gas carriers, general cargo vessels, mobile offshore units, offshore service vessels, passenger vessels, tankers, yachts and miscellaneous vessel types. Bulk carriers and tankers make up more than 60% of the registry with a growing number of container and most recently, gas ships.
We’ve seen a significant increase, particularly in new builds, from the gas market and have developed a specialised worldwide gas team to capitalise on the knowledge and expertise within our organisation. We’ve also seen growth in key markets, particularly with Greek-owned vessels. In fact, we’re the flag of choice for Greek owners.
The key role of any flag state is to develop regulations and ensure that the ships within their registries are following said regulations. How has this role evolved over the years, taking into consideration new technology, increased transparency within the industry and ever-tightening regulations?
A significant part of the RMI Registry’s value to its owners and operators is a commitment to addressing compliance issues with PSC authorities. To achieve this, we have developed a robust in-house Maritime Safety Program.
This in-house focus on promoting quality and marine safety is led by a global team of highly experienced fleet operations managers, who take a hands-on approach to active oversight of the safety of the RMI fleet. In addition to liaising with the operator when coming into global ports, the team also engages with PSC authorities worldwide to ensure open, transparent, and fair dialogue. It is this transparency that is so vital to keeping vessels and crew safe.
It was recently reported in the maritime press that DNV GL held talks with the IRI’s management team in London to discuss matters relating to digital class for flag states. What is IRI’s current position on digitalisation? Can we expect any developments in this area soon?
The RMI Registry is growing and digital services are a part of client focused solutions for the future. The RMI Registry already issues all vessel certificates electronically, but we have a number of initiatives and activities that are taking place behind the scenes with respect to digitalisation of operational issues, both prior to and during the life cycle of the vessel in the fleet.
We have cultivated a great relationship with DNV GL, and we feel we can carry on a meaningful dialogue towards our shared goal of using digital technology to streamline class and flag processes. Access to data allows new ways of working.
No matter where digital technology takes us, the role of the flag is to make sure that quality is maintained.
How important is to for both flag states and class societies to work together?
We work closely with classification societies (Class). We visit every vessel in our fleet at least once a year and delegate statutory tasks to the International Association of Classification Societies members. Class oversight is important in helping us do our job.
Many flag states have taken on aspects from Class in order to generate new revenue for themselves, but we believe in letting Class do what it does best and working with Class to pool our expertise and work in collaboration.
Registry personnel visit Class regularly, conduct annual audits, develop standards of operation, and review best practices to make sure that we are maintaining the highest standards possible. We also hold an annual Classification Society Consultative Committee meeting which allows an open dialogue between flag and Class, in addition to the one-on-one meetings with the individual class societies which are also very beneficial.
What do you consider to be the main benefits to companies who opt to register their vessels with IRI?
RMI adheres to the IMO, flag, and PSC authority regulations and employs an in-house compliance fleet assessment matrix to identify vessels that may require additional support. This proactive approach can help owners and crew rectify issues before they become significant. Having an open and active reporting dialogue with the flag state is a key benefit to owners and operators.
A significant advantage of working with us is that we vet everything. We fully support transparency and compliance. We work with owners to ensure that they are able to operate safely. We have unparalleled technical expertise, are focused on adding value to their operations, and we have no hidden charges. We’re also focused on ongoing education, training, and collaboration regarding the safety, security, and environmental compliance of the vessels which helps to reduce risk to owners and stakeholders.
In addition to Sulphur 2020, the shipping industry is facing a number of upcoming environmental/sustainable regulations in the upcoming years, such as ballast water treatment, and improved ship recycling practices. With each additional compliance costing shipping companies money during a time when margins for many are tight, what is your overarching message to the industry?
Change is inevitable; working together, we can navigate change in the most positive and practical way.
With so many ongoing developments occurring simultaneously throughout the shipping and shipbuilding sectors, how has the registry adapted?
Given the significant regulatory changes on the horizon, leading flag states have been actively involved in representing their clients’ interests and making sure the concerns of shipowners and operators are heard in the right chambers. The RMI Registry team, which sits at the IMO, has raised the concerns of shipowners and operators regarding the implementation of the MARPOL Annex IV sulphur emissions regulations, issues around Ballast Water Management and updates to International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea.
The RMI delegates to the IMO speak as an impartial third-party and maintains open lines of communication between regulators and global shipowners and operators. The team works closely with a broad spectrum of industry representatives to ensure the best interests of the entire industry are put forth, and that our own operations and practices are fit-for-purpose.
What are the biggest challenges currently facing IRI and the shipping industry at large?
The industry will continue to face complex regulatory changes and the move to digital elements within the industry will continue to develop. Our role is to provide critical technical expertise to the benefit of the entire industry and develop means for practical implementation and monitoring.
What are IRI’s main goals and objectives for the future?
We have expanded our business worldwide to support the growing RMI fleet and have a strong reputation for quality support. We expect to continue to provide this quality support while growing the fleet.
We are focused on strengthening our global teams, seeking opportunities to further our service to clientele, and developing our digital offerings. We also expect to be kept busy at the IMO, particularly in addressing the issue of decarbonisation in the maritime industry and playing our role to ensure that regulation is practical, achievable, and fair through the Marine Environment Protection Committee.