Q&A: Eleni Polychronopoulou on Greek shipping and sustainability

Written by Heather Ervin
Eleni Polychronopoulou, president of HEMEXPO

Eleni Polychronopoulou, President of HEMEXPO. (Credit: HEMEXPO)

Helen Polychronopoulou, president of HEMEXPO (Hellenic Marine Equipment Manufacturers & Exporters) gave Marine Log some insight into how the Greek shipping industry, primarily the Greek marine manufacturing sector, is addressing sustainability.

HEMEXPO has been representing Greek maritime technology specialists since 2014. Established as one of the leading European maritime exporter associations and drawing on Greece’s position as a leading shipping nation, HEMEXPO offers a unified platform which provides a collaborative link between its members and shipowners/operators, class societies and shipyards worldwide. 

Polychronopoulou is leading a group of companies whose products and services are focused on environmental protection and compliance in the maritime sector. Following an earlier role in R&D and project management, she now holds the position of executive vice president with Environmental Protection Engineering SA, as well as business development manager for BWTS manufacturer ERMA First ESK Engineering Solutions SA. She is also president of METIS Cyberspace Technology SA, a leader in data acquisition, performance monitoring and intelligent analytics. Most recently, she was elected as vce chair of Sea Europe. Here’s more:

Marine Log (ML): Can you begin by describing what sustainability means to HEMEXPO, both broadly and in the context of the maritime industry? 

Eleni Polychronopoulou (EP): Sustainability and sustainable development are crucial not only for today, but for the future of humanity as they impact both our personal and professional lives. For businesses, it is the transition to a safe and climate-neutral economy, which will also ensure growth. Until recently, global entrepreneurship was almost exclusively linked with growth, but this is changing, and in the coming years this will become more apparent.

In fact, ESG (Environmental Social Governance) reports are already starting to form part of the prerequisites for financing by credit institutions. These developments will affect the entire shipping industry, including Greek manufacturers of marine equipment. For us, sustainable development is the production of innovative and competitive products that will help ships to be more environmentally friendly, efficient, and aligned with the latest technology, while at the same time ensuring the future of our businesses.

ML: Can you talk about how Greek marine equipment manufacturers are helping shipowners/shipyards to be more sustainable? 

EP: Achieving the goals of sustainable development is not a one-way street. It is not only about manufacturers and how they can help shipowners and shipyards, but also about working together to achieve this common objective.

Collaboration is the magic word and the whole industry must work together to achieve the desired result and make shipping a pioneer in sustainable development. As Greek marine equipment manufacturers, we work closely with shipowners, shipyards, classification societies and the entire shipping supply chain to understand the issues they face and to offer the best technical solutions.

It gives me great pride to say that we are also currently in open communication with MARTECMA (the Association of Technical Managers for Greek shipping companies), to exchange ideas and discuss how we can work together to develop and manufacture sustainable marine products which will be environmentally friendly, safe, efficient, and competitive.

ML: HEMEXPO has stated that the maritime industry must develop and trial new technologies that prepare for a sustainable future for the industry. Can you talk a little bit about the importance of technology in relation to sustainability? 

EP: The evolution of technology is directly related to sustainable development and within HEMEXPO we have companies dealing with digitization and artificial intelligence. Shipping is gradually entering the age of state-of-the-art technology, and in the coming decades, such technologies combined with environmental efficiency are expected to change how the global economy, and shipping, functions.

For the shipping industry, the main issue is that ships are at sea, usually thousands of kilometers away from the shore.  Until now, this has been the main problem when dealing with any issues a ship has in the middle of the ocean. Let us not forget that ships are massive mobile factories.  However, at a land facility, personnel have direct access to resources, whereas on a ship this is almost impossible until it reaches a port. Or rather, it was impossible until recently.

New technologies have changed the balance. Through remote monitoring solutions, onshore personnel and manufacturers can now access data in real-time and react immediately to issues a ship may experience at sea. In some cases, it is also now possible to correct a fault through remote assistance, as technology allows crew and onshore staff to monitor performance and identify potential issues before they develop into problems.

In the future, this will be made even easier through augmented reality, in addition to artificial intelligence, which will gather data and suggest the best possible solutions.

ML: Why does HEMEXPO feel it is important for the maritime industry at large to prioritize sustainability, and what steps do you hope the industry will take to move in that direction? What will it take to achieve a zero-emission marine industry? 

EP: HEMEXPO is not alone in seeing sustainability and the achievement of emissions objectives as a priority, it is a top priority for the entire industry. However, it will be impossible for the industry to achieve these goals unless the necessary steps are taken on land to support sustainable shipping operations.

For example, recently, a large Greek shipping company received an ammonia ready tanker—the first in the world if I am not mistaken—but what we call green ammonia does not exist today. It is produced in very small quantities and there is no distribution network. So, if the land infrastructure is not in place to supply the ships with green fuel, ships will not be able to use them.

In the meantime, shipping companies, shipyards, classification societies and manufacturers are developing systems and products that will drastically reduce the environmental footprint of shipping (from paints and propellers to ballast water systems and digital platforms), and shipowners are starting to invest in ships that will use alternative fuels. While such fuels and the required infrastructure are being developed, “bridge fuels” such as liquefied natural gas (LNG) can be used to start reducing emissions.

Another very important issue is cost. The cost of the transition to net-zero is very high. A ship with “green” specifications today can be around 40% more expensive than a conventional vessel. It is understandable when looking at costs, that apart from giant liners, the financial risks are very high for small and medium shipping companies. However, synergies and collaborations can help provide the answers to the big issue of risk-taking.

In my opinion, to provide an impetus for first movers, governments should be involved and provide more support to the shipping industry to help mitigate the risk and achieve its sustainability objectives.

ML: Can you talk about the Poseidon Principles, and how as a global framework for responsible finance they can help shipping operate more sustainably?

EP: The Poseidon Principles are a very important initiative which has been adopted by banks and insurance companies with shipping portfolios to help achieve the goal of sustainable shipping.

Lenders using the Poseidon Principles will calculate the percentage of their loans that have “green” or sustainable characteristics and will aim to improve their statistics year on year. In this way, ESG will play an increasingly important role in financing decisions.

ML: Relatedly, HEMEXPO states that its members products offer cost effective and innovative solutions to shipyards and shipowners. In what ways are economic and environmental sustainability interconnected? 

EP: Yes, HEMEXPO member companies have succeeded in offering shipping companies and shipyards products/solutions that are both competitive and cost-effective for ships, while reducing the industry’s environmental footprint.

It is not an easy process; it is difficult for any productive industry worldwide. However, to move towards the goal of zero-emission, high-security shipping—and to ensure that ships continue to operate and carry more than 90% of world trade—wider partnerships will be needed.

I truly believe that the maritime industry as a whole has already started to move in this direction.

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