In an exclusive interview to SAFETY4SEA, Ms Maja Markovčić Kostelac, Executive Director of EMSA, talks about all topical issues concerning the maritime industry: from the pandemic impact and the opportunities arose for the sector to gender diversity, decarbonization and digitalization challenges, referring also to initiatives taken by EMSA to tackle with these challenges successfully.
n top of that, Ms Kostelac notes that in order to embrace real change, industry needs to become more open to dialogue and inclusive and she concludes that shipping revolution is in store as more young people and more women will join the industry with proper training and greater awareness about our sector.
SAFETY4SEA: What are your top priorities in the EMSA agenda for the next months?
Maja Markovčić Kostelac: This year has been an intense one in terms of work and delivery, supporting the European Commission and the Member States across the whole maritime dimension. And over the next few months, and indeed years, the pace will only pick up. On sustainability issues, we will continue to support the European Commission and the Member States through all maritime aspects of the European Green Deal, including the Fit for 55 package, the FuelEU Maritime initiative and, at international level, supporting the Commission and Member States at the IMO. We’ll continue to reinforce the operational support we give to Member States and EU institutions and bodies through – for example – our RPAS service, which adds an important element to the integrated maritime picture we already provide, by further developing multi-functional regional operations.
S4S: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted EMSA’s operations? Did you identify any opportunities out of the pandemic?
M.M.K.: The pandemic had a huge impact on every sector, including the maritime sector, and on every organisation, including EMSA. But we were able to tackle the challenges that COVID-19 presented in a flexible way, due to the years of investment we’ve put into our digital infrastructure, and our emphasis on advanced tools and services, like our e-Laboratory, which helped us move our training activities online while still offering an immersive experience. Throughout the pandemic, we developed new services and products for our stakeholders. We built a single repository of Member State COVID-related measures on our website and produced regular reports on the impact of the pandemic on shipping traffic, for example. This year we published a major study into the impact of COVID-19 on the maritime sector in the EU, looking at a range of indicators, from port calls, to environmental issues, to safety aspects, to inspections. We also produced guidance, in cooperation with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, on the safe resumption of operations in the cruise ship sector, something that was warmly welcomed by industry. And, together with the Member States, we managed to partially pivot our cycle of visits and inspections to remote mode. Overall, many of the tools and services that we developed and implemented during COVID-19 can and will be useful in a post-pandemic landscape.
S4S: In your view, has the industry handled the COVID-19 crisis effectively so far? What are the lessons learned? Where could we improve in the future?
M.M.K.: The COVID-19 pandemic had a profound effect on every aspect of our lives, and on our economy. Naturally, the maritime transport and the whole logistical chain were affected too. But the pandemic also proved, beyond any doubt, the resilience of the maritime transport sector. Even as the world went into lockdown, ships kept sailing, providing us all with food, fuel, and vital medical supplies. At the start of the crisis, the most pressing need was to ensure harmonisation of COVID measures and to ensure a timely exchange of information on the measures imposed throughout the world. The EU acted quickly with guidelines on the protection of health, repatriation and travel arrangements for seafarers, passengers, and others on board ships, as well as guidelines concerning the exercise of free movement of workers during the pandemic. But even though the situation is being brought under control with the arrival of vaccines, the effects of the pandemic are still being felt in the shipping industry. But the most serious long-term impact that I see from the pandemic was the difficulty in ensuring repatriation of seafarers. This nearly turned into a humanitarian crisis, affecting thousands of men and women on ships around the world. It is now absolutely essential that all seafarers have access to adequate healthcare and vaccines. In some parts of the world this is still not guaranteed, and this situation must change. Here, I believe that close cooperation between industry and governments is the key to achieve this goal.
S4S: How is EMSA facing the most challenging issues of digitization and decarbonization? Are there any related initiatives/ projects/ actions planned?
M.M.K.: In terms of decarbonisation, this is a high priority globally, and for the EU as a whole as well as for EMSA. We’re planning towards the potential adaptation of THETIS-MRV for any future support to an ETS system here in the EU, and we’re developing studies on alternative fuels, like biofuels and ammonia. We give support to the European Sustainable Shipping Forum, and of course, in September we produced the European Maritime Transport Environmental Report with our colleagues in the European Environment Agency – the first in-depth overview of the impact of maritime transport on the environment in the EU. Digitalisation is linked to decarbonisation – it is a tool that can make the maritime transport sector more efficient and inclusive. We aim to reduce the administrative burden on shipping through our support to the European Maritime Single Window environment and to e-certification, and we harness technology to put an integrated maritime picture at the service of Member State users, using data streams from high-tech sources like satellites and drones, and using automated behaviour mechanisms and machine learning. And of course, we are active in strengthening the EU approach to maritime cybersecurity, to support the industry in tackling this threat.
S4S: Currently, we are witnessing many considerable efforts toward women empowerment in the maritime community. What needs to be done further to support gender diversity in shipping? What is your advice to industry stakeholders?
M.M.K.: Women in shipping is a theme that’s particularly close to my heart; I am particularly passionate about seeing more women in our industry – I have been all my life! We have to consider that 50% of the world’s talent base is female, so any sector that doesn’t fully tap into that talent is losing out. Women are a game-changer for sectors as a whole and for individual industries and enterprises. Countries with a higher proportion of women in the workplace tend to be more competitive, for example, and we see that industries that are more diverse in their makeup do better overall. Shipping should be no exception. So, any action taken to improve gender diversity should complement the current, well-established, initiatives that are currently ongoing. I think in particular here of the Women in Maritime programme run by the IMO, and at EU level, of the Women in Transport action, which EMSA fully supports, and which forms part of a range of actions we’ve rolled out to improve gender balance in our Agency, and to encourage it in the maritime sector. But awareness is vital. Women can have successful and highly rewarding careers in this sector, but we have to make sure they know that they can, and redouble our efforts to attract bright female graduates into this profession.
S4S: In your view, has the industry been successful in enhancing its safety performance? What should be the next steps?
M.M.K.: There is no doubt that we have seen significant improvements in this area over the past few decades. This is down to better enforcement, including Port State Control and the IMO Instruments Implementation Code, as well as technological developments which have contributed to increased safety overall. Important too is awareness raising – I think here of initiatives like Equasis. Of course, we have to look forward too, and particularly at autonomous shipping, and potential safety issues here in the future. Last year, we released our SAFEMASS study to inform the debate around this issue, and we continue our work here with stakeholders and industry. Together with the European Commission, we are working on the safety package – the revision of the Directives on Port State Control, Flag State Implementation, and Accident Investigation – with the aim of improving the safety of ships in EU waters. But the most important factor in safety as a whole is a uniform and – most importantly – effective implementation of the relevant regulations worldwide. This is absolutely key in our global sector. At EMSA, we play our part through providing technical assistance to third countries, particularly in the area of capacity building through the SAFEMED IV and BCSEA projects, in the Mediterranean and Black and Caspian Sea areas respectively.
S4S: If you could change one thing across the industry from your perspective, what this would be and why?
M.M.K.: I would like to see the industry becoming more open to dialogue, more open to change and more inclusive. This will contribute to changing its image, highlighting the role of an important and vital sector on which the world depends. I genuinely believe that a revolution is coming in shipping; a revolution brought about by greater digitalisation and automation, and I am convinced that this will facilitate more young people and more women joining the industry. However, this has to be linked to training, and how we bring new generations and new talent into the sector. A higher level of digitalisation and automation demands new skills and new competences among the people we recruit, and we all have to move quickly to meet this challenge. We also need greater awareness about our sector, simply because you won’t be interested in working in shipping if you don’t know anything about it! That’s one of the reasons that we’ve launched our EU Maritime Profile, to try to open up shipping for EU citizens, researchers and anyone who has an interest in the maritime sector. It brings together key facts and data about maritime transport in the EU, presented in a clear and user-friendly way.
S4S: Do you have any projects/ plans you would like to share with industry stakeholders?
M.M.K.: More engagement with industry, particularly at this time where digitalisation and decarbonisation are such key – and intertwined – topics is a core aim of our work in the near future. Looking ahead, we’ll be supporting and assisting the European Commission and Member States on a variety of issues, including alternative fuels. We’ll start with publishing studies on biofuels and ammonia in the next year – work is ongoing here – as I already mentioned, and we’ll continue to work in parallel on safety aspects of alternative sources of power. One of the things that we are most looking forward to next year is the publication of the European Maritime Safety Report – what we are calling EMSAFE. This is going to be a major study that brings together all the data and information on the maritime safety landscape in the EU for the first time, and its publication coincides with the 20th anniversary of our own Agency. EMSAFE is being brought forward at a decisive time, when new technology and the push for greater sustainability are raising new questions about maritime safety in the future, so we feel the time is right for a holistic, comprehensive overview on where we stand in this regard in Europe, the progress we have made to date, and what challenges await us in the decades to come.
S4S: What is your key message to industry stakeholders with respect to a future of a more sustainable shipping?
M.M.K: I feel very strongly that commitment from all actors in the chain – not just shipping – is the key to success here. That involves regulators, the industry itself, the financial sector, and all parts of the shipping chain. I don’t think it’s possible to focus simply on shipping in isolation when we look at this challenge. For example, we all know that this is an industry in which investments are long-term, and because of that, the industry needs certainty in terms of the regulatory framework to ensure a stable environment for those investments. But I would also like to stress that sustainability is an opportunity, not a challenge. Sustainability measures and actions should not be seen as a burden to the sector. Rather, they can be a gateway to growth and prosperity. Overall, I don’t think that anyone is in any real doubt that we have arrived at a tipping point, and we need to act now. What we do today will affect the lives and well-being of future generations, so we have to act decisively, and not just talk about the actions we are going to take. The future really is in our hands now.
The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and do not necessarily those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.