After several years of very low freight rates for our vessels, the time has come to grow once again. We managed to navigate through some difficult years without losing our exposure in the markets. I put this down to our conservative approach, which resulted in us keeping financing low, and our focus on efficiency, safety and quality. We were one of the first shipping companies to obtain ISO 9002 and ISM accreditation in January 1997. Keeping our ships running safely and smoothly for our clients remains the company’s priority.
The correct path to strong and sustainable growth is never 100% clear, as we never know how markets will develop. During 2016 and 2017, we have managed to acquire both dry bulk and container vessels almost at the lowest prices seen in decades. We are still looking for opportunities in both sectors, as we believe both markets have good prospects. We feel we are, as an organisation, well positioned to take advantage of the next cycle, whatever it may be.
Although the future is by its nature uncertain, there are some clear trends and factors which we have to continuously keep sight of as they will shape market conditions. The first concerns the environment. We need to adapt to cleaner technologies and comply with ever-stricter environmental regulations. The regulations concerning ballast water treatment and NOx and SOx emissions will affect everybody in this industry. So far we have invested in three newbuild dry bulk vessels that cover the ballast water treatment requirements, and for the remainder of our fleet we will install WBTP as they come up for drydockings. Regarding emissions, we believe that eventually the refineries will have to come out with cleaner fuels. Very few owners of larger vessels will have the capacity to install scrubbers, an interim solution at best.
Among the many new environmental laws that affect the shipping industry is the EU MRV (Monitoring, Reporting, Verification) regulation. This requires us to report CO2 emissions for vessels larger than 5,000 GT calling at any EU and EFTA ports. We recently chose RINA to be the verifier for the EU MRV regulation for all applicable ships in the company’s entire fleet. How to deal with the forthcoming IMO fuel oil consumption data collection required by Marpol VI is also a big topic of discussion; we believe that RINA will be of assistance to us in this matter as well.
Consolidation is another trend we are seeing, especially in the container sector. It is affecting both the liner companies and the owners. As far as we are concerned, we are seeing significant interest in the idea of merging our containerships with others. There are some clear benefits, including economies of scale that could help us stay competitive in these fierce markets. We are currently evaluating all options.
Maintaining high-quality service in our business means maintaining high-quality ships and working with the best partners. That is why we work in very close contact with classification societies, not only for regular classification services but also for consulting on a variety of technical and operational matters. Whenever we need to prepare for modifications, test and approve equipment or conduct feasibility studies, for example, we entrust this to top classification societies or technical offices with the right expertise.
We started working with RINA around 10 years ago, and the cooperation has since evolved into multiple areas. They are now a valuable partner, helping us to run and upgrade our vessels to satisfy the ever-stricter requirements worldwide. Strengthening the Piraeus branch has played a significant role in boosting RINA’s market profile among the Greek shipping community, as their experts are even more easily accessible than before.
Running a stock-listed shipping company is a very demanding job, with many different responsibilities in different aspects of the business. My priority is to provide safe, high-quality service to our clients, but I also have to raise investment capital, plan resources for projects, negotiate with bankers, make sure our vessels find good employment, and so on. Thankfully, I’m supported not just by RINA and other partners, but by our top-quality teams of employees on land and at sea. To be able to inspire them and coordinate their efforts is a great pleasure for a CEO. And I believe it is one good way to find the path to sustainable growth.