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Time to embrace shipping reputation

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After decades of building a sound reputation as a leading maritime nation, with a pioneering tax regime that made Cyprus a flag of choice and not convenience, and as safety and eco-compliance become new priorities, it’s time for this island to contest a primary role in the world of shipping.

The fuss over the past few weeks of whether Cyprus should have vied for the post of Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organisation was unnecessary. Instead, it probably boiled down to unintentional delays over such a delicate matter.

It also conveniently helped avoid a mini-political crisis with Greece, that presently wants to improve its relations with regional troublemaker Turkey at all costs and scale down any potential conflict in the hotly contested Aegean with its NATO partner.

On the one hand, we have the unique position of the Shipping Deputy Ministry (formerly the Department of Merchant Shipping), driving policies in complete unison with the industry in Cyprus, resulting in the entire maritime sector directly contributing to at least 7% of the national output.

On the other hand, there is the reward of being recognised as a fair maritime nation, looking after the interests of the entire industry, especially that of the European Union.

Cyprus’ track record and its role as the standard bearer in seafarers’ rights, evident in the accolades it received for handling and pushing for the repatriation of crews during the critical period of coronavirus lockdowns, is one to be proud of, among many other achievements.

What is questionable here is not whether Cyprus would secure a commendable result in the race for IMO Secretary-General.

This key post is not a policymaker but one of maintaining a difficult consensus among its member states.

The argument is whether Cyprus weighed all its options, with or without a candidate.

And if not, whom would Cyprus support in this race, and what would it get in return?

There is no doubt that Nicosia should and will support the sole European candidate put forward by Finland.

It may even openly campaign on behalf of Ms Minna Kivimäki, a high-ranking technocrat whose knowledge of maritime matters stretches far beyond Helsinki.

How can Cyprus get its voice heard better and louder within the international shipping community and the governments that support them?

Does Cyprus have any chance of pushing for the acceptance of its flag by Turkey, the only country in the world that continues to maintain an embargo on Cypriot vessels?

Let’s hope Cyprus’ role in the greater maritime world is taken more seriously, starting from its own government.