Alfonso Castillero has been following with interest all the debate over what skillsets shipping leaders need, something that has dominated headlines on both Splash and our new subscription title, Splash Extra, in recent weeks. Castillero, as chief operating officer at the Liberian Registry, the world’s second largest flag, is in a good position to discuss the issue, given that his day job ensures he’s in touch with shipowners from across the globe.
His message to Maritime CEO readers is that for all the talk of digitalisation, disruption and millenials, it’s vital owners don’t forget their day job, making money from moving ships around the world.
“It is easy to think we need a different skillset to take our industry forward, but our core business is, and always will be shipping. Today’s leaders, like those before them, have to get this right to stay in business – and there is no better example of this than the ongoing success of Greek shipping,” says Castillero, whose been with the Liberian Registry since 2014 following a lengthy stint with the Panama flag.
Castillero admits there is no doubt we will see a greater emphasis on tech innovation and digitisation across the industry, and he questions shipping’s ability to bring in a less shipping-focused expertise ecosystem to advise on where and how this might be best applied.
“But,” Castillero stresses, “it is not necessarily a shipowner’s job to fund the risk of inevitable innovation, their job is to run safe and profitable ships, for that we cannot put aside the need for shipping staff. Today’s industry is often called ‘traditional’ and ‘conservative’, but good ideas which improve the business find their way into the system.”
Castillero believes the latest generation of shipowners will excel in different areas to their forebears – citing finance, technology, asset management and green tech as examples. Nevertheless, he is keen to reiterate: “We need to remember that shipping is not Silicon Valley. There is not a deep pool of funding competing for the next big thing. Innovators wanting to drive the industry forward need to understand that today’s owners already have the required skillset to be successful – because they already have the ships.”
Castillero is stepping up within the Liberian organisation following the departure earlier this year of Scott Bergeron, who had been CEO of the registry since the year 2000. Given the conversation with Maritime CEO, it looks likely Castillero will take a very proactive, vocal stance when it comes to regulations and the flag’s negotiating position within the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
On the global sulphur cap, for instance, Castillero has strong views, telling this site the way this regulation came into place has been “grossly unfair” to shipowners.
Castillero uses the introduction of unleaded automotive fuel as a comparison to make his argument.
In the US this was, roughly, implemented over a 20-year time frame from 1974 to 1995. More importantly, and more relevant for shipping, Castillero points out the regulatory burden for meeting unleaded standards was placed on retailers and refiners, not fuel consumers. Each car was not asked to pay for the installation of an automotive scrubber while the fuel suppliers played catch-up, Castillero reminds readers pertinently.
“Our current situation, to be blunt, has been grossly unfair on shipowners, and they should rightly be questioning why the 2020 regulation did not focus on the source of clean fuel, by far the easiest way to address the underlying issue, rather than the fuel consumer,” Castillero says, in comments likely to generate huge debate among our readership.
“As scrubber installation costs mount for shipowners, and as suppliers start to announce low sulphur fuel availability less than eight months out from the deadline, owners should have every right to ask how the IMO might do things differently if they had their time again,” Castillero continues.
The registry veteran’s time at the top of the Liberian flag will certainly not be dull.