Home to more shipowners, managers, and operators than any other street in the world, Akti Miaouli is a busy bustling thoroughfare running parallel to the busy Piraeus waterfront.
Stroll down Akti Miaouli and you will hear the constant sound of ship and taxi horns; take a deep breath and inhale a heady mix of sea air and exhaust gases. Behind almost every door of the countless offices that line this long road is a maritime-related business. Number 47-49 is home to IRI/The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) Registry’s thriving Greek office.
A sharp upturn in the number of Greek shipowners buying and selling secondhand tonnage has kept IRI’s Piraeus office very busy this year. Shipowners are seeing opportunities, particularly in dry bulk. The Baltic Exchange, the London headquartered shipbrokers organization, reported an upswing in secondhand asset values and that at the end of November, secondhand capesizes were changing hands for just over US$33m, compared to the US$25m mark just a year ago.
The Director of Worldwide Business Operations and Managing Director of the Piraeus Office, Theo Xenakoudis, says that there are many different companies active at the moment, and that confidence seems to have returned to the Greek market.
“The newbuild orderbook is low at the moment, but the secondhand market is booming,” said Theo Xenakoudis.
Theo Xenakoudis has been with IRI since 2001. When he first joined, the office was only four strong and led by his late father Captain Costas Xenakoudis and Captain John Giannopoulos. A former seafarer himself, Captain Xenakoudis joined IRI in 1994 and set up a robust seafarers’ licensing and documentation system that is still in place to this day.
Greece and beyond
Today, the Piraeus office has a very strong group of dedicated registry professionals, providing service to not only the Greek market, but also owners in Italy, Cyprus, Turkey, Monaco, and the Black Sea region. True to its roots, the office still has a core of seafaring professionals, with two ex-sea captains, engineers, naval architects, and an ex-shipping company Designated Person Ashore (DPA) on the team.
The well-balance, energetic team deals with every aspect of registering a ship under the RMI flag, and also has full authority to issue dispensations, answer technical questions, handle flag and port State control (PSC) inspections, and process seafarers’ documentation.
With an average of 1,200 documents processed a month, the seafarers’ team is kept particularly busy undertaking the rigorous checks and validations needed to issue seafarers’ documentation. Speaking to several of the team, it is clear that they are proud to be part of a registry that is now the most popular flag of choice for Greek owners.
“I think we’re so popular here because we have owners in Greece, not only financial institutions and funds. Many owners are traditional shipping people, they don’t just focus on the fees, but are most concerned about the flag’s reputation, their ship’s safety, and the relationship and cooperation. We are a Greek team here in Piraeus and we understand the ‘owner’ mentality,” says Captain Theodore Lalas, IRI’s Fleet Operations Manager.
IRI Piraeus is very much a part of the thriving Greek shipping community, which comprises small and large shipowners alike, as well as an ecosystem of P&I Clubs, lawyers, Classification Societies, bankers, and brokers. Athens is a tremendous maritime cluster.
Despite the troubled Greek economy and the prolonged shipping market downturn, he estimates that 80% of the faces and businesses on Akti Miaouli have remained the same over the past decade.
“It’s just the bars that have gotten more fashionable!” he laughs.
According to Theo Xenakoudis, a good ship registry does much more than simply issue documents. A good ship registry provides advice, is able to rapidly respond to daily operational and technical matters, and sits at the heart of the decision-making process at the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
“The involvement of the flag State in today’s world is enormous compared to the shipping environment 15-20 years ago, and that’s why building a sustainable system and infrastructure is the only way going forward,” he said.
But the key to the RMI Registry’s success is its reputation. The RMI flag enjoys a very good reputation not only with shipowners, but also with PSC authorities, financiers, and charterers. This reputation is built on the RMI’s ability to undertake inspections and its strict criteria when it comes to accepting new tonnage on its books. According to Theo Xenakoudis, IRI used to reject up to 20% of ships wanting to fly the RMI flag, but now the owners of substandard vessels know that it is not worth attempting to register their vessels with a flag focused on quality.
“Our Quality Control Boarding (QCB) program is an important part of our success,” says Theo Xenakoudis. “Many owners like the RMI Registry assigning an inspector on board and having another eye on the vessel.”
It is this proactive approach to inspections which has helped keep RMI ships on the United States (US) Coast Guard’s (USCG’s) Qualship 21 program. Being designated Qualship 21 by the USCG means that RMI vessels are not targeted for inspection in US waters.
As IRI’s Piraeus office approaches its 45th year of operation, it is clear that the office will continue to play an important role in the Greek maritime community. IRI will continue to invest in its people to match the continued growth of the RMI Registry, and hopes that it will remain the Greek owner’s foreign flag of choice for many years to come.