The Cyprus Marine and Maritime Institute (CMMI) prepares to set sail as it aspires to become the driver behind the island’s sustainable blue growth through knowledge and innovation.
Talking to the Financial Mirror, CMMI’s newly appointed CEO Zacharias Siokouros said the institute aims to fill a decades-long void in marine and maritime education, undertaking the task of setting the country’s blue economy on concrete foundations.
The Institute which was set up by MaRITeC-X consortium, spearheaded by Larnaca municipality that includes local universities, as well as international maritime institutions.
“The CMMI will be an independent, international, scientific and business Centre of Excellence for Marine and Maritime activities and carry out research, technological development and innovation activities (RTDI) to provide practical solutions to the challenges that the marine and maritime industry face,” said Siokouros.
The project received €15 mln in co-financing from the EU, after being selected for funding by the European Commission’s Horizon2020 research and innovation programme, another €15 mln funding is from the Cyprus government.
Government funding will be going towards the construction of the institute’s facilities in the Mackenzie area on a plot that was approved by the Custodian of Turkish Cypriot properties.
Initially, it will cover 35,000 square metres.
There is plenty of room for future expansion as the plot is next to the sea with easy access to the airport and the port and some organisations expressing an interest to set up in that area.
Siokouros said the institute has already hired its administrative personnel and is now set to hire its research staff with the institute planning to hire at least 100 researchers over the next five to seven years.
“The Institute aims to become self-sustainable within the first seven years of its operation, which is why we are pushing for a number of research projects to take off,” said Siokouros.
CMMI’s CEO noted that Cyprus is lagging when it comes to offering post-graduate education in the field of marine and maritime.
“We intend to close that gap. That is why we are in contact with a number of universities with the intent of setting up post-graduate programs, covering the needs for staff with technical knowledge in the industry.”
He explained that graduates in mechanical engineering could easily make the jump to the maritime industry with a post-graduate program, which would open up more employment opportunities.
CMMI’s CEO said the institute is to give back to Larnaca by transforming the town into a regional blue economy and a maritime training and research centre, promoting the Integrated Maritime Policy of the EU.
Siokouros said the institute will be setting up departments dealing with the development of a sustainable blue economy, and the perseverance of sea ecosystems.
The institute has received dozens of letters of commitment from companies, organisations and universities pledging to contribute either by direct investment or offering manhours in research.
“We will be focusing on applied research, as we are aiming to be a pillar of support for the local maritime industry. We are driven by the immediate needs of the industry.”
He said the Blue Economy established sectors in Cyprus employ around 38,844 people and generate over €1.1 bln in GVA, representing a 6% share of the national economy measured in GVA and 10% of the jobs.
Blue Economy’s contributions to national GVA and employment have remained relatively stable throughout 2009-2018.
“While Blue GVA (in absolute terms) has increased by 6% compared to 2009, its share has decreased by 4.5%, meaning that the national economy increased more than the Blue Economy.
As an island state, it is not surprising that the Blue Economy in Cyprus is dominated by Coastal tourism, which represents 86% of Blue-based jobs and 81% of the GVA in 2018,” said Siokouros.
Port activities, shipbuilding and repair contribute a further 6% in terms of GVA.
Siokouros said creating a sustainable blue economy and protecting the sea from climate change is high on the EU’s priority list.
“Protecting and restoring our ocean and waters is one of the defining tasks of our time, as human existence and all life on this planet fundamentally depend on them.”
He argued that oceans and waters hold solutions to feed, power and heal.
“Yet for too long, societies have ignored their existential and environmental role and have not given them the attention they require, which risks turning ocean and waters from source of life to a threat to our way of life”.
He said the Green economy is closely tied to the blue economy as the oceans and seas are the biggest climate regulator.
Cyprus could also play a key role in collecting and analysing data on the regional sea and coastal ecosystems, preventing possible future impacts.
The institute plans to contribute by hiring marine biologists and developing the sector, thus creating more jobs.
“We hope that in the near future we will be providing many young Cypriot scientists who have left the country because of the lack of work opportunities, the opportunity to return home”.
Siokouros said that the institute will also be focussing on promoting Cyprus as a maritime centre.
“The European Union blue economy, taking into account all maritime economic activities, represents 5.4 million jobs and value amounting to approximately €500 bln per year.”
Siokouros added that the Institute has already established relationships with shipping companies.
“We will also be trying to close an educational gap regarding maritime related professions.”
The Cyprus Registry is the 11th largest merchant fleet, and the 3rd largest in the EU (after Malta and Greece) with more than 1000 ocean-going vessels totalling 21 million gross tonnes.
In terms of dry-weight, Cyprus ranks 28th globally.
“Cyprus’ shipping industry, despite performing well over the past decades, there is plenty of room for improvement by adopting innovative technologies and digital transformation.
We will be working closely with the Deputy Ministry of Innovation on the matter,” said Siokouros.
There as some 40,000 people employed on Cyprus-flagged ships with only 200 of them being Cypriots.
“Our ultimate aim is to bring people closer to the sea, helping Cyprus make the most of its potential as a maritime and marine life centre.”