Ioannis Chiotopoulos
DNV Senior VP & Regional Manager South East Europe, Middle East & Africa

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Doubling Up on Greece: DNV’s Strategic Choice

Having made Greece its third home market in 2016, with a focus on maritime services, the world’s largest classification society sees budding opportunities in the country’s decarbonisation pathway, says Ioannis Chiotopoulos, DNV’s Senior VP & Regional Manager for South East Europe, Middle East and Africa, while the effects of the pandemic have served to deepen the uptake of digital tools and services by their client base.

GIG: Headquartered in Norway and with offices across the globe, DNV is deemed the world’s largest classification society while also being a leading technical advisor within the scope of both renewable energy and the oil and gas industry. What activities are centred through your offices in Athens? What are the benefits of being present in Greece?

Chiotopoulos: DNV ’s activities in Greece are focused on the maritime sector, and there’s a very strong reason why we have a big office in Piraeus: the strength of the Greek shipping cluster. Greece represents about 20% of the world’s total tonnage and 54% of European tonnage, meaning the country houses the world’s biggest shipping fleet concentrated in a very small place, with a population that represents, at most, 0.2% of the world population.

According to our statistics, about 20% of bulk carrier owners are located in Greece, as are at least 21% or tanker ship owners. At the same time, the fleet has an average age of 12.6 years, which makes it the youngest fleet in the world.

And Greek-based shipping companies are considered to be of the highest quality and calibre worldwide. So, where else would you invest, rather than in Greece, if you want to invest in the maritime sector?

And that is precisely why our company made Greece its third home market in 2016. We have two other home markets, Norway and Germany, which are natural choices bearing in mind that DNV’s origins stem from both countries. But in the case of Greece, we have developed a programme to further enhance our presence.

We offer a variety of services to cater to our Greek clients focused on our expertise in all ship types, especially focused on bulk carriers and tankers and, more recently, gas. For example, we have a chief surveyor onsite, and provide a full range of classification services, pre-contact services, as well as Maritime Advisory. We have our Maritime Academy that counts on the participation of about two thousand people per annum, we launched our Regional Maritime Gas Centre in 2020, and we have a research and development unit along with a significant Business Development department.

We have also established a Greek surveillance network around the world. While this is not specifically linked to Piraeus, for communicational purposes, we have created hubs around the world for Greek vessels to visit and be surveyed. And based on the belief that communication is an essential factor for the proper functioning of business, regardless of a person’s technical background, we engage Greek surveyors.

GIG: You mentioned the launch of DNV’s Regional Maritime Gas Centre in Athens last year, which was an important vote of confidence in the Hellenic market. What was the rationale behind this move, particularly taking into consideration the growing weight of renewables as Greece – and Europe – strives to become a carbon neutral economy?

Chiotopoulos: We are on a decarbonisation pathway. The whole world is talking about greenhouse gases, and we all want to end up in a carbon-free world. And yet, we cannot stop business across the globe to reach this point. Instead, we need to collectively take steps in the right direction.

Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is an enabler in meeting our end goal, which is a decarbonised world. At this moment, we don’t have the technologies available to power big vessels with renewable energy sources of alternative non-fossil fuels. However, LNG and gas powered vessels are here, can be ordered now, and can be delivered and operated in a safe manner.

We see LNG as a medium through which we can achieve a decarbonised world. Greece has a large cluster of shipowners who are investing millions of dollars in new vessels and new technologies associated with natural gas. Meanwhile, we have one of the world’s biggest suppliers of gas within the region, which is Qatar. So, having a maritime gas centre in Piraeus allows us to serve both shipowners and gas producers.

GIG: What role do you see Greece playing within the wider regional energy market?

Chiotopoulos: Greece has always been at a crossroads between worlds, given its location at the centre of Europe, Asia and Africa. Because of this, Greece is set to play an essential role in the development of the wider energy industry. There will be many pipelines passing through Greece, and a great deal of investments rolling into LNG bunkering, and other supporting energy infrastructure, probably within the range of billions of euros. And that is precisely why DNV is here.

There are also important stakeholders, who have already established themselves in Greece, and will play a key role in the development of this industry.

Besides the potential of the gas industry, there’s also great prospects in Greece’s solar and wind energy sectors, particularly offshore. We know that there are plans in place, and we’re waiting for them to take off.

Our prime minister recently signed an agreement with Volkswagen for a project on the island of Astypalea, which will make it emissions free. While this is a small start, I think it represents the bigger vision. We have all the elements needed to harvest energy from natural resources, like the sun and wind. Now, we just need the right investments to come forward.

GIG: Actually, the Greek government is currently considering kick-starting the development of its offshore wind capacity through the launch of a pilot project within the next 2 to 3 years. Based on DNV’s expertise within this sector, is this an area you are considering or would consider engaging with?

Chiotopoulos: DNV has been in the offshore wind sector for many years. We were actually the first company to publish offshore wind rules in the 80s when offshore wind farms were looked upon as more of a science fiction theme. We currently certify about 80% of the world market’s offshore wind farms, which shows we definitely have the competence, knowhow, and the people.

We are just waiting for the investments to start happening for us to bring extra capacities to Greece. It’s something I’m very excited about and I’m eagerly awaiting. We could be the exclusive providers of standards for Greece and for whoever is investing in wind farms.

GIG: Technological innovations ranging from digitisation across to AI are at the centre of the future of the shipping industry. How is DNV responding to this challenge? How have the effects of the pandemic impacted or accelerated the adoption of new technologies?

Chiotopoulos: We have always been at the forefront of digitisation: innovating, creating new technologies to drive efficiency, and using data and sensors. As a Norwegian based company, research and development (R&D) is at the heart of our company, and 5% of our revenue is invested in R&D each year.

However, with the passage of time ships have become central hubs. You can now collect live data with satellite networks and receive real-time data from ships. A lot of valuable information can be collected which, if used in the right manner, poses tremendous possibilities. At times, this data is of better quality than the data collected using traditional methods of surveying or monitoring vessels.

The reality is that we were well-prepared to support our business continuity with our existing digital services. What did happen, though, was that we started employing tools a lot more that we already had available, like remote surveying.

While we launched our remote surveys in February 2018 – so long before the pandemic hit –progress in the implementation of these new tools had been slow. In many cases, shipowners preferred relying on a more traditional approach. Now, however, all our clients want remote surveying because it is easier, taking into account the pandemic outbreak. So, the pandemic caused a breakthrough in terms of mind-set change. DNV has completed more than 20,000 remote surveys so far. Alongside remote surveys generally, DNV launched Machinery Maintenance Connect (MMC) a new remote approach to the machinery planned maintenance system (MPMS). Instead of requiring surveyors to travel to each individual vessel and go onboard, machinery data can be processed via algorithms and presented to customers in a digital dashboard – enabling the survey of a complete fleet in one process and unlocking new insights into vessel and fleet performance. 

On the other hand, we have our industry platform, called Veracity, through which we launched My Service Portal many years ago. This is an extremely user friendly platform that is attached to an array of novel applications for shipowners.

DNV provides a variety of different digital tools in terms of customer service, such as, electronic class and statutory certificates for the entire fleet and most flags since 2018. This enables a worldwide access to class documentation, which never gets lost, is always updated and can be available from any device. What is more, our technical help desk DATE (Direct Access to Technical Experts) provides with 24/7 of service, finding the most accurate solutions in due time.

Another example is Smart Survey Booking (SSB). Thanks to this, we know where our surveyors are, their competencies, and when they are available. We also know what vessels we have. And thanks to the use of Automatic Identification Systems (AIS), we know where the vessels are and what kind of commitments they have.

If we collate all this data in a smart way with information regarding where each vessel is going next, and their upcoming delivery commitments, we can advise shipowners on when and where it’s most convenient for them to visit a DNV approved service station, along with the cost this will entail, while directing them to the right surveyor. The response from our clients has been amazing.

In 2016, when we launched Greece as our 3rd home market, we had approximately a 16% market share in terms of number of vessels. This has now grown to 19.2% in terms of gross tonnage.

The Greek market is huge, and we are very pleased to be growing and to be able to show our customers that we can respond flexibly to their needs, have efficient tools, and the best people to deliver services of the highest quality. And of course, it’s a vote of confidence when a client renews a contract with a new vessel, or when a new building project comes along.

GIG: You undertook a study on the enhancement of the Greek Flag, an effort that goes in line with the Greek government’s targets to boost the competitiveness of the Greek shipping registry. Can you tell us about this?

Chiotopoulos: In February 2020, the Greek Flag gap-analysis was handed over by me and the Ambassador of Norway, Frode Overland Andersen, directly to the Minister of Maritime Affairs and Insular Policy, Ioannis Plakiotakis, as part of DNV’s efforts to always support and strengthen the position of the Greek Flag within the global shipping market.

This analysis was developed in coordination with our Oslo and Hamburg departments. And the study is part of our ongoing attempt to actively work with several flags with a focus on streamlining processes, reducing unnecessary administration, and removing obsolete flag requirements that don’t contribute to enhanced safety or pollution prevention.

Our report identified evidence of associated legislation, occasionally referred to by the Greek authorities, that could be more up to date. This includes decrees that were established a long time ago, yet are still in force, and are not always practical to follow – especially taking into account current and valid international requirements for upcoming market needs and the maritime sector in general.

Therefore, the gap-analysis was developed vis-a-vis valid and present requirements established by applicable international conventions, to re-evaluate the necessity of certain regulations on the Greek side. This was followed by a preliminary associated proposal for further procedural handling, to ensure alignment. It’s worth mentioning that both procedural and technical aspects of Greek requirements were under review in the project.

While we understand that our input is currently under evaluation, we don’t know whether there will be an effort by the Greek authorities to implement our recommendations, such as, for example, the formal acceptance of the issuance of electronic certificates. The gap-analysis was also shared with the Union of Greek Shipowners.

GIG: International shipping finds itself at the epicentre of environmental and sustainability driven reform. What impact are decarbonisation targets having on ship design and new ship orders? Is green hydrogen an answer?

Chiotopoulos: The new ship building market has been decreased due to uncertainty, mainly attributable to the new international regulatory framework. If we add in the effects of COVID, investors who were considering building new ships have shelved their plans. According to our figures, a significant drop has been noticed in the market. To put things into perspective, DNV had more than a 28% market share in Greece of the new building market in terms of million gross tons (MGT) for the year of 2020.

In terms of new technologies, there are many in the testing phase that we are a part of. However, the key component to a decarbonised future is fuel flexibility, because a shipowner cannot wait 20 years – until a long-term solution is found – to renew their fleet.

We need to be smart. We advise our clients on how to design flexible vessels, so that with a small CAPEX investment, they can adapt to new technologies. For example, a vessel can now be built to be LNG ready for a very small increase of the capital cost, meaning it won’t require the immediate installation of tanks on board – as they currently are very costly.

Shipowners are hesitant about LNG because they feel, and correctly so, that the capital cost is extremely high. It entails an investment in sea type tanks of anywhere between $10-15 million per vessel. The challenge is that these tanks have not entered a mass-production phase, and there’s a lot of uncertainty on the maker’s side as well. However, when the supply does increase notably, there will be a significant drop in pricing, as happens with all new technologies.

So, we suggest that owners look very carefully at all options – considering their vessel, route, and trade, as well as what works best for them.

This is a complicated decision, but we believe that having fuel flexibility – whether looking into a new ship building with LNG or another alternative fuel, retrofitting an existing ship, or choosing a “ready” design where the vessel can be converted to use a lower carbon fuel in an easier manner – is essential to remain competitive over the long term.

This is just one example of being fuel flexible, which can be adapted to a number of other technologies.

Manufacturers are now developing new engines that will be able to burn ammonia in the future. That is sending a signal to the market that ammonia may be the fuel used as a global solution for decarbonisation. However, there is no single roadmap or ideal solution, yet. We have issued a maritime forecast called Maritime Forecast 2050, which provides 30 different scenarios to decarbonisation with various technologies, and how they can influence shipping as a whole. It’s a very good tool for shipowners to navigate the current uncertain environment.

In terms of green hydrogen, we are doing a pilot project focused on this in Norway. Nevertheless, our forecast is that green hydrogen is likely to have a limited uptake, due to the investment cost associated with adapting the engine fuel system and storage systems on board. Of course, this could change as the technology evolves and potential new innovative solutions are developed.

But hydrogen will probably be used in small geographies where governments have already invested in industries that are producing hydrogen, or perhaps for short voyages. However, hydrogen is a building block for the production of ammonia or methanol, both of which look like the most probable solutions in the future. Indicators are pointing in this direction, and this has to do with the fact that the main engine makers are ready to produce engines that can burn ammonia.

Nevertheless, it’s going to take quite some time before any new technology can be mass produced; we’re looking at a 20-year timeline. We first need to identify the right technology, this then needs to be tested on a small scale, and it then needs to grow to a point where it can serve the masses. And this process can last decades.

GIG: Do you think it is possible to meet 2030 targets?

Chiotopoulos: The IMO targets are attainable because their baseline is 2008. The reality is we are already halfway there considering the number of changes that have already permeated the sector: speed reduction, engine changes, new technologies, etc.

I personally believe, with a few more changes and a relative investment, 2030 targets will be achieved – from where we stand now. The 2050 targets, however, are going be a real challenge, without the industry receiving support from all the stakeholders in the maritime industry.

GIG: DNV announced a company-wide rebranding that came into effect on March 1 with it having dropped “GL” from “DNG GL”. What’s the strategy and how do you expect this to impact your presence in Greece?

Chiotopoulos: The primary reason behind our change of name is to simplify and thereby strengthen our global brand. The DNV GL brand name was created through the merger between DNV (Det Norske Veritas) and GL (Germanischer Lloyd) in 2013. It was a merger of two proud companies, each with a 150-year brand legacy and complementary strengths, so combining the two names was the right solution in 2013.

However, it was not a name that rolled off the tongue, and many customers and stakeholders around the world had adopted the shorter ‘DNV’ for convenience already. Therefore, we do not expect to see any impact regarding our presence in Greece. The name simplification is also a natural consequence of a successfully completed merger and of having operated as a fully integrated company for several years now. 

DNV is our new brand name. The original meaning of DNV is Det Norske Veritas, but as a global company, DNV is the company name we will use. We are not “going back” to the old DNV, which is also shown in the logo, it is a continuation and simplification. We are bringing forward all the strengths of the two legacy organisations, while making it easier for our customers and other stakeholders to use our brand as a mark of trust.

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