Interview: Arun Sharma, Head of IR Class and Chairman of IACS
Tom Cox from The Maritime Executive recently interviewed Arun Sharma, the head of IR Class and chairman of the International Association of Class Societies, along with Suresh Sinha (managing director of IR Class), Vijay Arora (joint managing director of IR Class) and Robert Ashdown (IACS Secretary General) at the IACS Annual Conference in London. They spoke about the latest developments at IACS, including the appointment of Mr. Sharma as chairman, a position held by each of the society's members on a rotating basis.
TC: It is a pleasure to meet you gentlemen. Mr. Sharma, how have the first few months been going as IACS Chairman?
AS: Interesting, on a learning curve. It has been pretty quick, but we have been interacting ever since the last conference meeting at Busan. After that, we prepared for the London Shipping week and the current IACS meeting, and yesterday we met quite a few industry stake-holders - insurance companies, INTERCARGO, INTERTANKO, IMO and the European Commission. I would say it has been pretty interesting and active.
TC: And how have the preparations been going for IMO 2020 low sulfur transition? How is the IACS getting involved in the process? Can you talk about interactions with shipowners and how you are working with the shipowners?
SS: IACS has come out with a position paper for 0.5 percent sulphur and at the same time for greenhouse gas emissions.
AS: I think our different members are also working with their own shipowners. At IR Class, shipowners come to us and ask how do we give out guidance notes and advisories on what they should be careful about. We have interactive conversations and I am sure it will be the same with other classes. It’s not really coming primarily under the IACS umbrella.
RA: Essentially now the regulation is in place, so this becomes an operational issue about how you handle the fuels on board the ship. And of course IACS doesn’t involve itself in the operational work of the ships. Now many of these class societies also have consultancy areas beyond their class work, and it’s through their consultancy services that they advise the shipowners on things like how to handle this. It’s not a core part of their class activity.
TC: Are there any regulations that IACS is keeping a close eye on?
AS: It's not a regulation, but cyber security is the one thing IACS is working hard on and we have made some great advancements on that. I think by the end of the year that subject will be finalized, because it is kind of again a traction between increasing automation and connected ships within ships and the ships and shore, all these automations need to be safe and secure from a cyber security point of view. And that will eventually, the ultimate aim is that the ship will be designed and constructed in a manner that it should remain a cyber resilient ship.
SS: This is something that IACS is working on and the effort has progressed quite a lot. IMO is also interested in what IACS is doing, and so by the end of 2019 we will see some complete guidelines on cyber security coming out.
TC: Mr. Sharma, can you tell us a bit about your background?
AS: I have worked with IR Class for quite some time, but I spent least 15 years in positions in ship owning companies, starting with the state-owned Shipping Corporation of India and then Great Eastern Shipping. I was in very operation intensive areas, starting from chartering, then marketing, technical, all those kinds of things. It has given me a very good perspective on how shipping works and how ships are run, and I think I was fortunate to go through all these various areas. That is the reason I am able to talk about the operational part of shipping, and it has been useful from a class point of view.
TC: You mentioned at Norshipping that you are going to be interacting a lot with shipowners and getting feedback from them. What kind of responses are you getting?
RA: You know, these are very complex times. It’s a difficult regulatory landscape and a difficult market, and it is really important that class, owners, shipbuilders and insurers are all talking so we can prioritize and coordinate our work.
AS: There are various regulations coming that are very stringent, and at the same time we have a not so good market. So the owner has a double-whammy – on the one hand you know you have a bad market, and on the other hand you have the cost of the regulations and the cost of more qualified crew. Today, the biggest cost to an owner will be the compliance with new regulations and then the human element cost. As soon as you get into 2020 it will be the cost of fuel. It is not the most fortunate time to be a shipowner.
TC: IR Class has been in Greece now for nearly 10 years, new offices are opening in Doha and Turkey, and I hear a Dutch office is opening as well this year. Is IR Class seeing a bigger move towards international business?
AS: Over the last five years I have been monitoring our in-classing. I think we have moved from 10 to 16 percent foreign tonnage over that time. We have expanded in terms of our flag recognitions and our geographical presence with offices, and there has been a very large increase in tonnage acquisition from the Middle East and somewhat from the Far East and the Asia Pacific. Europe we are still beginning in, we have done some out of Turkey and a few Greek ferries. We hope we get something out of Europe because now we have flag recognition from Malta, Cyprus, the Netherlands. I think people are now aware of the capabilities of IR Class and I think we expect to prosper from it.
TC: Looking forward, do you see any major hurdles as we move through 2020 and your term as IACS Chair?
AS: We need to make sure our quality keeps improving at IACS step by step. We need to get the IQARB (International Quality Assessment Review Body) into place, that will be good. We need to have good progress on the emissions control and a data-driven policy – an increased level of communication with IMO as well. And intense interaction with the industry to get feedback in all the areas we can focus on. I think we have our plate full here.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.