In our special column, we are pleased to host an interview with Maria Conatser, President of the International Propeller Club who generously shares insights into the organization’s latest initiatives and key priorities on their agenda, emphasizing their active pursuit of new members as they approach a century of impactful activities.
aria Conatser underscores the critical need to enhance public awareness regarding the significance and scale of the shipping industry, coupled with a commitment to delivering a compelling industry value proposition. Within this context, there is a notable emphasis on fostering greater collaboration and encouraging private investments to drive sustainable growth. Maria Conatser further highlights the industry’s progress in reducing its environmental footprint. However, she underscores the necessity of striking a delicate balance between environmental aspirations and economic realities.
SAFETY4SEA: What are your top priorities in the agenda taking the helm as the new President of the International Propeller Club (IPC)?
Maria Conatser: The IPC is the world’s largest maritime networking organization with more than 5000 members at 70 clubs worldwide. Our main priority is to sustain and grow the network. We are targeting 1000 new members and X new clubs by the 100th anniversary of our founding in the United States in 2027. Key is showcasing the member benefits of providing regular networking opportunities enabling members and businesses to raise awareness and build personal and business relationships. As a measure of our impact our Piraeus club in Greece has more than 1000 members and we are looking forward to engaging with their President Costis Frangoulis at Posidonia next year raising awareness of IPC to the international maritime industry. Other big clubs include Tampa, Baltimore, Savannah, Charleston, Tacoma, and Mobile while new clubs are starting in Varna, Bulgaria and Palm Beach and restarting in Chicago. In addition, we want to encourage even more interaction between the member clubs to foster relationships and opportunities. A big platform for achieving this is our annual convention which brings clubs together to discuss critical industry issues. Our next convention will be held in Tampa in autumn 2024. It really is an exciting time for the IPC and the organization is on an upward trajectory as we approach our centenary.
S4S: What are the main challenges you are facing in your new role?
M.C.: The main challenges are driving organizational growth and overcoming sea blindness[BP1] among the general public and young people who are the up and coming workforce.
S4S: As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career? What is your advice to achieve diversity, equality, and inclusion in the maritime industry?
M.C.: Females can miss out on opportunities because they lack mentors, role models, sponsors, or access to appropriate networking opportunities. That being said, women are rising in maritime. More women are graduating from maritime academies and maritime employment by women is increasing. Several initiatives leading to the advancement of women include: facilitating access to high-level technical training, creating environments that identify and select women for career development opportunities, and facilitating the establishment of and participation in women in maritime associations. Some current examples of women maritime leaders include: Admiral Linda Fagan, 27th Commandant of the United States Coast Guard, the first woman commandant of the Coast Guard – and the first woman to lead any of the U.S. military branches; Vice Admiral Joanna Nunan, 14th Superintendent of the United States Merchant Marine Academy, the first woman in Academy history to hold this role; Melina Travlos, Chair of the Board of Neptune Lines Shipping and Managing Enterprises SA, the first female president of The Union of Greek Shipowners in its 107-year history; and Dorothea Ioannou, the first woman CEO of a P&I Club in the 168 years since the founding of the first marine insurance organization. However, In the seafarer sector we continue to experience a greater gender disparity with only approximately 1.2% of the workforce being women, and even fewer in leadership roles. And, until we swiftly address and remediate the bad behavior experienced by some female seafarers, the industry will continue to struggle to attract this demographic.
S4S: What is your wish list for the industry and/or regulators and all parties involved for the maritime decarbonization?
M.C.: I agree with IMO goals and the need for decarbonization. Significant work is needed for the research, development, and implementation of new and/or enhanced technologies. This will require collaboration and investment from both the public and private sectors to achieve economic feasibility, particularly for new technologies. My wish is that we ensure the technology is economically feasible before requiring its implementation. We need to balance environmental goals with economic realities.
Also, we need to leverage the importance that Ports play in decarbonization as they also generate significant emissions. Examples of port initiatives include: 1) the use of Onshore Power Supply (OPS), 2) bunkering with alternative fuels, 3) the use of electronic data exchange, PortCDM, and other digital technologies to facilitate shipping virtual arrival, Just-In-Time (JIT) berthing, and Vessel Speed Reduction. The Port Emissions Toolkit co-authored by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH) is a great tool to assess and develop port emissions reduction strategies.
S4S: In your view, what has been a remarkable development/innovation you have seen on the sustainability front in the maritime industry?
M.C.: The industry’s environmental footprint has marginally improved through the use of cleaner fuels and engine technology. And now, the industry continues further enhancements through carbon capture, digitalization and efficient route planning, e-fuels, and biofuels.
S4S: What key lessons have you learned during your time in the industry, and what advice would you give to others?
M.C.: The key lesson I have learned is the importance of patience and persistence. The wheels of change move slow; it is imperative to be persistent and deliberate. My advice to others would be: 1) always seek to add value, and 2) commit to being a life-long learner.
S4S: What needs to change to raise the industry’s profile and attract future talents?
M.C.: We need to increase public awareness as to the importance and the magnitude of shipping and deliver a strong industry value proposition. The industry transports 90+% of the goods, with the smallest carbon footprint of the modes of transportation, and is the backbone of the global economy. With supply chain management and logistics education growing, the industry has the opportunity to attract more talent. However, the perception and value proposition must improve to retain future talent. We need to understand what motivates the young workforce. According to Deloitte’s 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey, the cost of living and climate change are top concerns overall. Where employment is concerned, work/life balance and learning/development opportunities are the top criteria, closely followed by salary and benefits. However, diversity and inclusion and the societal and environmental impact of organizations were also key factors. Many respondents said they would turn down a job if it failed to align with their values. The industry needs to highlight how maritime delivers on their desires.[BP2] On the seafarer side, the quality of life onboard a vessel is extremely important. Connection to the internet and call access are important to workers away from home. Wages need to be attractive to incentivize work away from home. Adequate shore leave is important to allow for rest and relaxation. We also need to provide opportunities to transfer and advance to shore-based positions. And in instances where workers are mistreated, situations must be swiftly addressed and remediated.
S4S: Do you have any projects/plans that you would like to share with industry stakeholders?
M.C.: One of our main goals as an organization is to focus on workforce development. The expected continued growth of the industry combined with an already existing worker shortage accentuates the need to address this issue. We will work to make students aware of the industry, provide connections and opportunities to learn more about and become engaged with the industry, and help them identify opportunities for internships and employment. Also, as a significant portion of the workforce is reaching retirement, we will work to assist mid-level workers with opportunities for professional development and career growth.
S4S: If you could change one thing across the industry from your perspective, what would this be and why?
M.C.: I would seek to eliminate maritime/sea blindness. The lack of awareness and appreciation for maritime hinders the ability to attract support, investment, and workers to the industry. While the pandemic highlighted the important reliance on shipping, the industry continually finds itself, “out of sight, out of mind.” The reality is that people have short memories. And unless people have personal links to the industry, they likely don’t appreciate the impact and magnitude of the industry. We must raise awareness, understanding, and appreciation to solidify future success.
S4S: What is your key message to industry stakeholders to foster a more sustainable future for shipping?
M.C.: Two important items come to mind. One is the importance of collaboration. As the industry seeks to solidify its competitive position it must be more efficient, predictable, and resilient. Industry stakeholders must work together to develop innovative solutions for the common good. The second is through incentivizing private investment. At times, financial constraints are such that incentives are needed to make investments feasible.
The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.