CYPRUS EDITORIAL: Shipping merger long overdue

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When the island’s two main shipping bodies, the Cyprus Shipping Chamber and Cyprus Union of Shipowners, took advantage of the key Maritime Cyprus conference to announce their merger, the first thing that came to mind was “at last”, followed by “what took so long?”

There is no doubt this is the most important development in the shipping sector of the past four decades, not ignoring the elevation of the Department of Merchant Shipping to a junior ministry.

Upgrade of the government department, just short of a full Cabinet office, was inevitable and, frankly, driven by the needs and concerted efforts of the industry itself.

Having two major umbrella groups, in the past driven by egos more than the need to cooperate for the better good, also meant there was a great deal of duplication, both in membership of both bodies, and representation in international fora, sparking a rivalry of sorts.

Over the years, however, logic overcame intolerance, and it was a matter of time for all sides to get together and realise that they are united by more issues than divides them, with the latter diminished over time.

After all, the common strategy was to enhance the Cyprus flag, improve infrastructure, abolish red tape, adhere to emission and environmental rules, respect seafarers’ rights, and adopt any advancement that made their fleets (and pockets) richer.

This is a sector where instead of eating it, the big fish feeds the small fish and the camaraderie that exists is commendable, perhaps thanks to a handful of people with vision and the willingness to go the extra mile and respect the opposite camp.

Fortunately, politicians have stayed out of the maritime sector, not least because the industry itself does not want them, and circumstances do not need them.

With the Chamber and the Union now joining forces, it is only a matter of time of getting new leadership and, ironically contrasting all outcomes of mergers, a bigger workforce rather than shrinking the administrative teams, mainly because of the huge workload that lies ahead.

Speaking in one voice will also strengthen the government’s position when it comes to major international decisions, notwithstanding the ongoing problem of Turkey’s embargo on Cyprus-flag vessels and the inability of the state to do something about it, not until a solution is reached to the political problem.

With the Maritime Cyprus theme aptly named “Sea Change”, perhaps this merger is the beginning of a paradigm shift that will see the shipping industry evolving into something bigger and better.