Just before the start of summer, shipping leaders from Cyprus, Malta, and Greece held their sixth trilateral meeting. Every year, these nations convene to discuss challenges facing the shipping sector, as well as methods of strengthening their collective voice within both the European Union and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). Amid new energy goals and a series of important IMO meetings the month of July, collective effort and teamwork is more important than ever for these seafaring heavyweights.
The Nicosia-hosted meeting in May between the three countries gave Natasa Pilides, Deputy Minister of Shipping in Cyprus, a chance to debut her newly-created ministry’s increased resources and her sector’s promising future. Pilides chaired the meeting with Greece’s Shipping and Island Policy Minister, Panagiotis Kouroumblis, and Malta’s Minister for Transport, Ian Borg. Discussions centered on competitiveness, labour relations, training, and practical ways to reduce pollution.
The three nations closely followed the IMO’s 120th council meeting in early July, as well an intercessional meeting held at the time of writing by the organisation’s Marine Environment Protection Committee, focused on defining clear-cut and achievable goals for 2020 in regards to environmental sustainability within the shipping sector.
The Cyprus-Malta-Greece relationship was established in 2013. Annual meetings help to foster already-aligned cooperation efforts between the countries. As the three largest maritime jurisdictions in the bloc, these countries realise the value of a common strategy. They may be smaller economies in the face of other EU nations, but together they have the most significant maritime fleet.
In total, shipping provides 142 billion euros in earnings and 2.1 million jobs in Europe. In 2017, shipping contributed one billion euros to the Cypriot economy (roughly 7 percent of the nation’s GDP). It’s the same story in Greece, where only the tourism industry accounts for more dollars. It’s expected that maritime activities will soon contribute about 14 percent of Malta’s GDP.
Though the three nations are technically in competition with one another, they continue to work closely to preserve the economic promise of the industry and maximise their independent development and innovation efforts. Considering the economic output, it’s nothing but a net plus for Union on a macro level.
The biggest obstacles the shipping industry faces today revolve around regulation. In April, the IMO reached a plan to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the shipping sector by at least 50 percent by 2050 compared to 2008 levels. Some EU countries wanted to set more ambitious targets, but Cyprus, Malta, and Greece fought for a more realistic approach. Secretary-General of the IMO Kitack Lim said the agreed-upon strategy “would allow future IMO work on climate change to be rooted in a solid basis.” The shipping industry’s globally binding Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI), combined with a 0.5 percent global sulphur cap by 2020, and a forthcoming oil consumption monitoring programme will also help improve overall shipping efficiency while keeping nations on a fair playing field.
While Malta, Cyprus, and Greece support the IMO’s efforts, they agree that the key to increased regulations in the industry is a pragmatic and gradual approach that creates lasting change. If new policies are rolled out too hastily, the southern states warn that the guiding posts for growth within the sector could actually limit it. In order for Cyprus, Malta, Greece and other EU member states to compete with Asian and other emerging countries, the shipping sector’s biggest actors in Europe aim to navigate regulatory waters as smoothly as when they are out at sea.
Another notable effort among this trio is its pursuit of the use of alternative fuels, which those in the shipping industry plan to impliment into their sector. Liquid natural gas discoveries in Cyprus and newly-found gas in Greek seas could lead to an energy source that could power shipping without causing irrevocable climate damage. Diversification to clean energy would not only aid in shipping sectors reaching their environmental targets, it could also reduce reliance on oil-producing nations.
Uncertainties over availability and price remain, however these resources could be the dominant marine fuel of the future – or at the very least, an important part of the mix. In the meantime, ship builders are also experimenting with lighter materials and more efficient design. Sulphur scrubbers are in especially high demand.
As for the future of the Cyprus-Malta-Greece relationship, Pilides said that the countries have agreed to enhance their cooperation and expect that the cooperation will yield positive results for all three of the countries involved, as well as for the European and international shipping market.
It’s worth noting that under the proposed 2021-2027 EU budget, the European fisheries and maritime sector will be allocated more than six billion euros. The commission hopes to streamline the funding process to make the budget more effective. The primary goal of the funding is to help European shipping sectors work toward sustainable practices and energy innovation as well as ocean pollution reduction.
The EU is well-positioned to become a world leader in the global shipping sector, which the Commission believes could be worth double its current 1.3 trillion-euro value by 2030, with Southern European nations leading the charge.