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Ozgur Asik: "Turkish shipowners choose the Marshall Islands flag"

Ozgur Asik: "Turkish shipowners choose the Marshall Islands flag"

As the world’s one of the most experienced maritime and corporate registry service provider, International Registries is specialized needs of the shipping and financial services industries. Regional Manager of IRI Istanbul, Özgür Aşık spoke to Virahaber a

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When was the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) Registry office established in Istanbul, and how it has developed in the Turkish market?

International Registries, Inc. and its affiliates (IRI), which provide administrative and technical support to the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) Corporate and Maritime Registries, established an office in Istanbul in 2011 As a gateway between Asia and Europe, Istanbul is a key maritime hub and leading shipbuilding and repair center, and having a strong presence in Turkey is of vital importance to IRI.

Today, we have a team of six staff in Istanbul. We offer a comprehensive list of flag state services, such as vessel registration, mortgage recording, and bareboat chartering registration and renewables, including the issuance of maritime and corporate certificates. Recently we added Inventory of Hazardous Materials (IHM) certification services to support clients’ compliance with the European Union Ship Recycling Regulation (EU SRR) to require an IHM certification for specific vessels from 31 December 2020 Our nautical inspectors conduct pre-registration and annual safety inspections and is always available to work with our clients to provide guidance on rules and legislation. Importantly, we work with IRI’s network of 28 other offices worldwide to provide global coverage and representation.

Tell us about the support the RMI Registry provides to shipowners, ship managers, and your competitive advantages as a registry. What is the makeup of the current RMI fleet, and how do Turkish owners/operators fit into the equation?

As of 30 April 2020, 4,715 vessels were flying the flag of the RMI, representing 174,495,517 gross tons. The number of Turkish-owned vessels flying our flag has grown significantly in recent years, and today there are 190 Turkish owned /operated vessels in the RMI Registry making the Turkish community the 10th largest group in the Registry.

Many Turkish owners choose the Marshall Islands flag because of our solid reputation for quality and commitment to best practices. As a top registry, we have the scale, resources, and expertise to offer first-class service, both locally and internationally. Owners know that by flying our flag, they are in good company. We are whitelisted on the Paris and Tokyo Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) and have been awarded the United States Coast Guard’s (USCG’s) QUALSHIP 21 status for 16 years in a row, so our record speaks for itself. No other registry has achieved this.

Shipowners /operators are also drawn by the fact that our team here in Istanbul provides hands-on support in Turkish.

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How has the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic affected Registry functions? What measures have been taken to protect and support seafarers, and to handle vessel inspections and other critical operations during this pandemic?

While it has been a particularly challenging time for the entire maritime industry, the work of IRI’s offices has been able to continue without interruption. IRI’s decentralized network structure, with each of the 28 offices having decision-making authority, has meant that all the core functions of the RMI Registry have been efficiently and effectively managed. Here in Istanbul, we have split the Istanbul team into different shifts to alternate working from the office and from home to follow local guidance and protect the health and wellness of our staff, while maintaining seamless operations for clients.

Having accomplished technical experts and highly experienced staff spread out across the world has really been a key asset during this crisis, because it has allowed us to smoothly transition and move operations around to stay at full capacity for our clients. We have stayed in close contact with our clients and partners, and have done our very best to support the Turkish shipping community.

We have lent our voice to an industry-wide campaign to designate seafarers as “key workers.” This would allow them to disembark from the vessels and travel home by land or air, and we are pleased to see positive progress being made under the leadership of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). While we are continuing to advocate on this issue, we are also working closely with the maritime community to protect the safety and well-being of crew on board, and to put measures in place wherever possible to mitigate the risk of crew catching COVID-19. We are also advising operators and managers as to what must be done in instances where there are suspected or confirmed cases on board.

We have also focused considerable effort on providing support for vessel inspections. The RMI Registry allows for alternative inspection arrangements when an in-person inspection is not possible. In such circumstances, our regional Fleet Operations Managers review the performance history of both the vessel and the company and decide whether to reschedule the inspection for a later date or conduct the inspection remotely with crew interaction. The latest information, Marine Safety Advisories, and more can be found at:
https://www.register-iri.com/covid-19/

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A crucial subject in the industry is the transition to low-sulfur marine fuels, in accordance with IMO 2020 regulations. How has this been managed in your fleet? What actions are being taken by the Registry to support the transition?

We worked closely with shipowners and operators here in Turkey and internationally, alongside industry partners, in the lead-up to the transition, and we are pleased to observe high levels of compliance. Enforcement has been stringent but, thankfully, it appears that the transition has been well-managed, as judged by port State control (PSC) inspections. We are urging ship operators to remain vigilant regarding potential fuel oil quality and availability issues worldwide, particularly given the disruptions being caused by COVID-19.

Looking at the IMO’s action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping, what is RMI’s position?

Of course, we support efforts to reduce emissions from shipping and to protect the natural environment for future generations. The role of flag States in helping the shipping industry manage the environmental requirements that are required of it is significant; it is a responsibility that the RMI takes very seriously. As a flag State with a seat at the IMO, we are dedicated to ensuring, as the regulatory agenda progresses, that all possible technical and operational questions are explored and accounted for.

The greatest challenge for every party across the maritime industry is in overcoming uncertainty, given that there is currently no commercially viable fueling solution available to suit every vessel type to meet the IMO’s ambitious 2050 target. We are committed to supporting our community as we manage this truly seismic change. This is why, as an organization, we allocate considerable resources and expertise to every major IMO committee, including the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), where these regulations are being shaped.

The crucial role of Class Societies and your cooperation with them is something worth mentioning. How important is it for both flag and class to work together?

Cooperation between Class Societies and flag States is critical for ensuring safe vessel operations. The RMI has delegated authority to the major Class Societies for the statutory requirements, while our teams maintain technical oversight of delegated functions. This makes it much easier for owners and operators to both fulfill their requirements and control costs, while we make sure there are no duplications of cost or hidden fees, which may be experienced
with other registries.

According to the USCG’s 2019 annual report, the RMI flag maintained its QUALSHIP 21 status for the 16th consecutive year, while other major flags either lost it or were not included in the list. Could you please explain more about this achievement, and let us know about the ranking of the RMI in the Paris and Tokyo MoUs?

Approximately one-third of all QUALSHIP 21-certified vessels are flying the RMI flag. The other major flags, Panama and Liberia, are not included on the QUALSHIP 21 roster, which means that vessels flagged to those registries are more likely to be targeted by the USCG.

As mentioned before, the RMI is also whitelisted on both the Paris and Tokyo MoUs and meets the flag criteria for low-risk ships under both regimes. Recently, the RMI was also recognized as a top-performing major flag State in the Tokyo MoU Annual Report on Port State Control in the Asia-Pacific Region, published in May this year. Here, the rolling average detention ratio for RMI vessels over the past three years was 2.19%—the lowest average detention ratio of any of thetop three registries.

These accolades speak to our high standards and expectations, as well as our ability to support owners, operators, and crew in ensuring compliance.

IRI has been also active as a corporate registrar for offshore companies. What are the main advantages for companies, especially shipping companies, that register in the Marshall Islands? What are the latest developments in terms of RMI’s position in EU lists, as well as its cooperation with other international institutions, such as the OECD?

The RMI is a modern, stable corporate jurisdiction that provides the flexibility and efficient service required by corporate users. The jurisdiction is considered to be a cooperative tax haven by OECD regulations, due to its international tax transparency standards exchange and agreeable stance on tax-related information exchange. For shipping companies, the biggest incentive is statutory exemption from any corporate tax, income tax, corporate profit tax, withholding tax, asset tax, stamp duty, or exchange controls. As most foreign companies do not conduct business within the Marshall Islands itself, their profits are 100% tax exempt.

The EU whitelisting and largely compliant rating in OECD reflects the RMI’s commitment to international corporate governance and taxation standards. The next phase will be the enforcement of the Economic Substance Requirements. This means that certain entities conducting certain activities in the RMI must have sufficient “economic substance” in the Marshall Islands. In the context of the shipping business, the regulations recognize that ships are inherently mobile, and that most of the core income-generating activities are performed in
transit, outside of the RMI.

Turkey has a very strong yacht market, and the RMI has a strong program to support the yacht industry. What are the main advantages of the RMI’s yacht program?

The RMI provides a robust legal system, an attractive charter income program, and a customer-friendly approach delivered by a dedicated yacht team.

Turkey is a key market for the yachting industry, and for yacht-building in particular. As a leading yacht registry, we provide specialist expertise in a way that other registries are unable to do. It is not the same as a commercial ship registry—yacht owners and yards want to work with people who truly understand their requirements and have the technical expertise to support them.

The RMI Yacht Code provides a commonsense and practical approach to evolving safety and technical issues while being supported by a strong worldwide yacht technical group. We offer yacht owners a range of options, including our Yachts Engaged in Trade (YET) program, which allows for private use without losing the option to charter the yacht on an occasional basis to offset annual running costs.

It would be interesting to let us know what challenges exist for flag States, and what your future plans and goals are as an organization.

We have two primary goals: to ensure the safety and security of our ships and the people that work on them, and to protect the environment. RMI’s IMO delegation will continue its detailed and high-level work on the development of new regulations across all areas of the maritime industry, and we will continue to support our community in managing change.

We will continue to invest in people and technology, take a proactive approach to customer service, continue to grow our local presence here in Turkey, and further expand the number of quality Turkish-owned vessels in the RMI Registry.

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