"Liberia, the flag is not enough. A maritime nation is needed" / INTERVIEW

Genova - Only people from the shipping industry recognize him at first sight: the young manager sitting at the table in the corner of the Genoese restaurant is the president of an almost legendary institution

di Alberto Quarati

Genova - Only people from the shipping industry recognize him at first sight: the young manager sitting at the table in the corner of the Genoese restaurant is the president of an almost legendary institution, the Liberian Registry, an international flag par excellence, with 4,500 ships around the world and 180 million tons of gross tonnage – being 12% of the global fleet. Elan Cohen represents the second generation at the helm of the Registry, since his family took over the management of the institution in 1999. Since then the Liberian Registry has left behind its name of the flag of convenience, it has grown together with the maritime industry and become the Registry of the large international companies, focused on the highest standards of people management and environmental issues. "The idea - explains Cohen - is to keep these standards high with less bureaucracy possible, avoiding redundancies, which can be often observed in ship management and keeping the administrative work to an absolute minimum.”

The Registry is a private US company that manages an entity on behalf of the State of Liberia. What is your relationship with this African country?
"I travel to Liberia at least four times a year, and obviously our presence on the territory is constant. Relations with the government are certainly good. We have implemented a training project for future maritime professions, dedicated to the young people of Liberia. The first training session was completed in September, the new one will begin shortly”.

How many students are involved?
“The course completed in September involved 25 participants, the one which is about to initiate will gather approximately the same number: but in fact, it’s not all about the numbers. Please consider we are talking about the country that still copes with the aftermath of the civil war that lasted almost 20 years. We start from scratch, with the aim of creating a generation of seafarers and setting the foundations for the shipping industry, which does not exist today. How do you achieve this? Ensuring that the people trained today can all find employment in the future. There have been a lot of similar projects in the world, but it must be stated that those focused on quantity rather than quality, have failed. It is pointless to invest in training that does not guarantee future work. We have a long-term vision and a good plan to achieve it.”

In Italy, besides the ships flying your flag and related services, have you launched any other particular initiatives?
“Indeed, and the initiative is related to our training project in Liberia. Each Liberian cadet is twinned with a fellow student in Italy, at the Caboto Institute of Gaeta. They shall keep in touch via Skype, essentially to share their experiences. This serves to make their training courses complete and above all helps them to get used to the international environment that they will find on board the ships they will one day work on”.

During your stay in Italy you are accompanied by the Honorary Consul of Liberia – Mr. Salvatore d’Amico. What are the main objectives?
“I am here for an activity that I care a lot about: introduce and make myself known. In Rome we had a meeting with the Commander General of the port authorities, Admiral Giovanni Pettorino. We went to Civitavecchia and Livorno to pay visits to Commander Leone and Admiral Tarzia, here in Genoa we were received by Admiral Nicola Carlone and Mr. Ugo Salerno, the Managing Director of RINA, while in Venice we met Admiral Piero Pellizzari. These meetings fully fall within the philosophy of the Registry: it’s our face rather than documentation or ships that we put forward, and this is a basis that we want to build our relationship with the local authorities on, through the network of 28 offices and 450 surveyors and experts. We want to reduce the bureaucracy to an absolute minimum, and work like a company, highly focused on quality”.

While in Italy you also participated in a conference on "criminalization of the commander" held in Rome. What does it mean?
“It is a delicate and absolutely important issue these days. Although many aspects of onboard activities are coordinated with shore management, the implementation of new of rules and regulations and continuous technological development over the past years, have unavoidably made the responsibilities of a captain increment. This definitely leads to an increase of stress and professional duties, which are not always perfectly protected. It is a great concern, because we risk discouraging from work at sea the most scrupulous people, who feel the burden of tasks that are gradually increasing, with obvious negative impact on the whole industry. A crucial element: before a seafarer boards a ship flying our flag, he is asked to sign forms in which he basically declares to be fully aware of the regulations related to his professional responsibilities and activities on board. A seafarer is always the center of our attention. It is no coincidence that we are the only Registry to carry out with our own surveyors and not third party appointed inspectors on board audits on MLC 2006 Convention to verify employment and working conditions of seafarers.”

Plans for 2020?
“Always with a view to reducing administrative burden, last month we launched an app to simplify information exchange between all parties who need to communicate with us in real time. 2020 will definitely be a complex year, because we have to deal with divergent regulatory standards of the IMO convention, especially in terms of scrubbers, where the legislation is not homogeneous. Then, there are the US trade sanctions, which have a great impact on the shipping industry, and the most recent issue of the coronavirus that requires a lot of attention regarding the movement of the crews. As far as our strategy is concerned, it must be stated that last year we grew by 16%, and we are in fact the Registry that can proudly announce an impressive growth rate. We consolidate our position on our traditional markets, such as Germany, Greece and China, and we continue with the opening of new offices to make the network even more widespread. So, after Japan in recent weeks, we will move ahead to the Philippines, Norway, the United States and again China”.