New Shipping Lanes

Sunil Kapoor, Director at FML Ship Management, talks about their trials and tribulations during the pandemic, the measures taken to ensure business continuity and the opportunities that have arisen through crisis.

Shipping never stopped

Shipping never stopped, but we had to deal with new challenges. At FML, we were able to seamlessly transition to working from home and continue supporting the smooth operations of our ships. However, the nature of our work brought unforeseen challenges as we had to navigate the movement of people and goods across a world full of closed borders and mandatory quarantines.

For example, changing crew members onboard is no longer a routine operation. Previously, one could hop-off a ship and take the next flight back to their home country. Today, the same person would be met with two quarantines and thus we cannot act with the same level of flexibility. As shipping is a global business, we need not only the Cypriot markets to reopen but also the rest of the world to begin to move back to normal.

Communication Gap

Furthermore, shipping is a relationship-driven industry. Owners place a lot of trust in their operators and this trust has been historically built in person. Up until the lockdown in Cyprus, I had spent much of my time travelling around the island and the rest of Europe to work with our ship owners in person. Unfortunately, Zoom has not been able to fill the vacuum. I am personally very excited by the return to ‘normal’ in Cyprus and look forward to the day when I can once again meet all our incredible clients and customers around the world.  

New working environment

Working environments will never be the same again after the pandemic. These changes will extend to how individuals communicate, enter workplaces or how they interact with others. From our side we ensured that our services remained uninterrupted both during the lockdown and afterword. During the lockdown we had to create a plan B in order to guarantee that our employees can access physical offices in a safe and healthy manner.

We had to create shift schedules, rotations and different start times in order to minimize exposure. Large employee meetings and gatherings stopped, and we had to utilize all office space in order to ensure social distancing. Similarly, guests were not allowed in the office. These measures allowed us to keep our offices open while also administering some remote working arrangements if necessary.

Workplace flexibility

In times as challenging as these and even now that the measures are more relaxed in Cyprus, we still maintain a flexible approach to managing individual needs on a case-by-case basis. We understand that everyone is going through a tough time and pressure and we allow our staff to manage their own situations (e.g. looking after children, or elderly family members) while balancing their work duties. Travelling ceased for the whole group and we had to integrate virtual technologies into business as an everyday practice. Even now that the travel restrictions are slowly lifted, the company needs to make risk-based decisions on what travelling is necessary and what can be avoided. One of our advantages as a group is that Fleet has a global coverage. We have 25 offices with superintendents stationed at every part of the world. This has enabled us to work seamlessly during these challenging times.

Technological focus

Our strategy and goal remain the same; to provide quality ship management services that are reliable, cost-effective and meet or exceed customer requirement. Fleet’s ability to adapt and innovate is what makes us successful. So, our target remains the same; we just must do things in a different way.

Tasks that we thought were impossible to be done without a physical presence are now completed with great success and efficiency through technology. We continue to focus on the digitization of our operations, exploring new technologies (such as Virtual or Augmented Reality) which allows us to keep delivering at a high standard during such exceptional circumstances.

Crew becomes biggest concern

One of our biggest concerns and priorities is the crew change. We need to make sure we look after our seafarers during this difficult time. We are working with Governments, agencies, ports, flag-states and industry associations to find solutions. International governments must be more lenient or seek creative solutions to accommodate crew changes. Fortunately, Cyprus was one of the first countries to truly recognize the severity of the problem and have categorized seafarers as key workers. This decision is a big step forward, allowing crews to change and allowing the flow of goods to operate as normal.

In a position of strength

The world is going to be very different coming out of the pandemic than what it was before. As such, we need to align ourselves for the “way the world will be” and not “how it was”. On a positive note, the crisis has been an opportunity to strengthen relationships with our customers and our stakeholders. We are lucky that Fleet will come out of this crisis stronger, and we need to ensure that those who have faced the most challenges will benefit from our position of strength.

Time to rebuild

My message is simple: now is the time for us to come together as a community and rebuild our country’s economy. Those in the position to do so should look to spend locally and support our tourism and hospitality industries. For example, if each citizen spent an average of 100 euros each, we would inject 100 million euros back into the economy. At a more macro level, Cyprus has been able to battle the pandemic far more competently than the rest of the world. This fact, alongside the early easing of the lockdown measures, will make Cyprus far more attractive for international businesses. I encourage shipping companies to use our island as a hub for crew changes along with other Aux shipping services. Finally, we should all use this experience as an opportunity to reset, restart and refocus, stronger than before.


*this interview appeared in INBusiness Magazine, August Issue  


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