07 Jul World-leading classification organization and advisor prepares the shipping sector for change
Ioannis Chiotopoulos, VP Regional Manager South East Europe, Middle East and Africa, DNV GL Maritime, focuses on making clients’ lives easier
In your opinion, what were the key elements that enabled Greece to tackle the coronavirus crisis so effectively?
I would focus on one word: adaptive. If you look at Greek history, we all know that Greece is at the crossroads of three continents. Many merchants passed through here and everybody wanted to trade with us. We traded for thousands of years, which made our DNA take on an adaptive nature that evolved with our culture.
We say that half of Greece is outside Greece. This is another element because if you go around the world you can find Greek professors in almost all the big universities. And this is just another example of how well Greeks have done. They have traveled around the world, adapted to different cultures and, in doing so, have been very successful.
There is an additional element that is very important. There are many nations that are law-abiding. Law is a nice thing to have but it can be strict. New laws tend to come after important changes, which bring about deliberations and discussions. The moral norm, which is the unwritten law, is very adaptive and flows in the air. This is what Greece has as a country; we are a very moral nation and, thanks to this, we have become adaptive. When the instructions or rules from the government are good and aligned with the moral compass inside of us, this makes for a successful situation. This is why Greece was successful during the COVID-19 crisis. The instructions from the authorities were aligned with our moral compass as a nation.
The magnitude of the global economic shock resulting from COVID-19 is yet to be quantified but, even though some sectors may have been protected or even grew during the crisis, most have suffered. In what ways has coronavirus affected the shipping sector and DNV GL Maritime, the world’s leading classification organization and advisor, which is responsible for enhancing safety, quality, efficiency and environmental performance in the global shipping industry?
I assume that almost all businesses have been affected by the pandemic and we have been affected as well. As we all know, the new norm is virtual meetings, electronic media, new ways of connection and new ways of doing business. For the most part, DNV GL Maritime was already set up to adapt, because the nature of our job is remote. Our people are always on the run, they are always onboard vessels or at client sites doing audits. Our teams and systems were already set up in an electronic and remote manner. I can tell you that, although our offices in Greece were closed for a two-month period and now we are running at 50-60 percent capacity, we have not seen any kind of disruption to business, at least from the perspective of production and our clients’ expectations. In this respect, it has gone well.
However, the wider maritime sector is a different story. Various sectors and segments have been affected in different ways. For instance, look at liquid cargo carriers—tankers. Because the price of oil plummeted recently, as we all know, and with the coronavirus uncertainty, everybody wanted to stock up. In order to stock up, you need transport. Tankers were in high demand during this period and this meant they enjoyed very high rates. At the same time, the industry stopped producing and dry cargo stopped being transported. Consumers did not consume as much as they did before. That meant there was a discontinuity and a gap was created. Some sectors like bulk carriers and containerships were affected quite heavily. However, I see this as something that will not continue to be as severe as it was during these months. A gap has formed and needs to be filled. The instant we start working again—and we have already seen the example of China that is back working 100 percent right now—the gap will eventually be closed. The bulk and dry segments will certainly rebound.
Under your leadership, DNV GL has grown in Greece to become a dynamic regional hub for the company’s presence in South East Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Can you tell us about your experience within DNV GL before you returned to Greece in 2015. What lessons did you learn on your travels that you have brought back home?
I was based in the Far East with my family for 16 years. We spent 10 years in China and six in Korea. One thing that I brought back is that nothing remains the same; everything changes, absolutely everything. I have experienced tremendous changes in my family and the environment we have around us. Living in China, the rapidity with which the country was changing socially and industrially was astonishing. The city we lived in would transform almost over night, and industries would emerge and boom from one month to the next. Seeing this and working in that environment had a huge impact, especially on my understanding of the need to adapt to change. Now, change is part of my life and it has become part of my family’s life. We have to accept change, live with it and take the best from it.
Technological innovation is having a phenomenal impact on the shipping sector, in terms of sustainability, efficiency and profitability and DNV GL is at the forefront of this. What can you tell us about your research and development (R&D) here in Greece and the cutting-edge technologies that you have produced?
Ships have transformed and nowadays they are more like “digital hubs,” receiving millions of signals every second. What we are experiencing is a shift in decision making from offshore to onshore. 11 years ago, DNV GL was the first to establish an R&D department here in Greece. We have developed solutions here that are very cost efficient for our customers, making their lives easier and improving their cost-benefit ratio. I can give you a few examples: we have COSSMOS, which is a platform that uses thermodynamics criteria to boost energy efficiency—we use it to explore the various systems onboard and propose cost-efficient solutions to the customer.
We also have DATE, which stands for Direct Access to Technical Experts. This is a centralized service through which our customers can ask questions and receive answers within a few hours. It is a 24/7, around-the-clock resource for finding the most accurate solutions. In addition, we have a smart survey booking service that I like very much that is a combination of various databases. Ships need all sorts of services and have specific requirements to fulfill. Our combined databases have all the updated information they need, around the world. It is a competency hub. Depending on a ship’s needs, or where it is going, we can advise in real time and help our customers make smart decisions. This makes the lives of our customers extremely easy and cost efficient at the same time.
An array of new services have been developed at DNV Piraeus but also with the collaboration of our headquarters, because we are a global organization. We need to have global synergies in order to deliver these multinational and quite complicated services to our customers.
Let’s talk a little bit about another of the company’s successful initiatives in Greece: the DNV GL Maritime Academy Hellas. What is the history of the academy and how would you describe its role in the Greek maritime sector?
Our industry has seen a lot of rapid changes in recent years, with many new regulations and requirements coming into force. That is making the lives of our customers quite complicated. DNV GL’s role is to listen to them in order to help them and make their lives easier. Our academy has succeeded in preparing our clients for upcoming changes, keeping them abreast of developments and offering them training solutions fit for their needs, while maintaining our quality by having top-level experts deliver our programs.
The feedback from our customers is excellent and they are giving us quality assessments of about 90 percent. We are proud that, over the last 10 years, we have conducted approximately 1,150 courses with almost 13,000 attendees from 400 different companies within the shipping industry. It is also worth mentioning that the Maritime Academy Hellas has received the 2020 SMART4SEA training award, as a recognition of its many achievements.
Do you have a final message you would like to share with the global readers of Newsweek?
I would like to say that, even though the time during the pandemic has been very hard and has had a terrible effect on many people’s lives, we must try and find something positive in how we live with it. If we cannot go out, we can go in and try to discover the gems or the really good things that each one of us has inside. For me, it was wonderful to spend time with the family, it was a wonderful time to read a couple of books that you always wanted to read but you never had the time. It was a good time and an opportunity to see the changes happening and to foresee the brighter future that is coming.