Stephanos Tsonakis meets us in the brand new Glyfada headquarters of Eastern Mediterranean Maritime Ltd., offices that are airy and bright and sparkle in the Greek sun.
"In many ways," says Mr Tsonakis, "these offices reflect the environment we try to maintain on our ships - open and transparent so that we have full accountability on all our vessels."
Responsibility and accountability are important characteristics for this ship management company, which oversees a fleet of 29 vessels, divided almost equally between bulk carriers and tankers and totalling about 3 million DWT.
Crew training, a key component of the company's activities, is carried out in Eastern Mediterranean Maritime's own offices in Greece and in the Philippines. In fact, following the culture of the company, crew does not leave Eastern Mediterranean Maritime - this is something we are especially proud of and we like to refer to our crew as our family."
Mr Tsonakis says that the managing director of the company, Mr Thanassis Martinos, has expressed the company's views on crew training perfectly: "If we have an excellent crew, we do not need a large office staff, since our masters and officers are able to manage the vessels properly and solve a multitude of problems." In other words, the crew fully understands the company's culture and the company fully supports its crew.
Reflecting Eastern Mediterranean Maritime's hands-on approach, Mr Tsonakis says that Mr Martinos personally developed the company's philosophy and management systems. "We prepared all our ISM manuals over a period of years, and they continue to evolve. Our manuals are very comprehensive and reflect the personal approaches we believe must be implemented, above and beyond the standard manuals."
Safety and the environment
Eastern Mediterranean considers safety to be one of the most important factors in its business, a major part of its daily operations. For main jobs on board, it requires a risk assessment, an evaluation and office approval.
"My engineering background allows me to understand the effect of pollution on our environment and I am extremely sensitive to these issues," says Mr Tsonakis. "We are especially concerned about emissions from our engines, auxiliary equipment and refrigeration and air conditioning systems. In fact, the company monitors its safety and environmental standards by setting KPIs (key performance indicators).
For example," says Mr. Tsonakis, "by monitoring refrigerant emissions we are able to track our reduction success - this is a very important, results-based tool. Overall, we approach the maintenance of the entire fleet as a top priority." The company has a comprehensive preventive maintenance system covering all parts of the ship, not only machinery but every space on the ship. In this way we also prevent accidents, machinery breakdowns and excessive repair bills. We view this as an investment, not a cost."
Although the global recession has affected shipping deeply, Eastern Mediterranean has not reduced its commitment to high performance, environmental and energy saving standards.
The company makes every effort to reduce its onboard waste. Proper maintenance prevents breakdowns and leakages. "Our bilges are painted light grey - almost white. This allows us to very easily assess the condition of the engine room."
Another company policy is that office Port Captains and Superintendent Engineers visit their ships very often and in fact sail with them. "We also employ experienced external auditors in navigation and fire fighting, who are sailing on our ships, evaluate the crew and conduct onboard training. Engineering training at sea is done by our experience ex Chief Engineers, who are now employed as port engineers. We consider this onboard training to be the most valuable and important type of training. This is a win-win partnership. One of the things we have achieved is to instil a desire for continuous learning in the crew.
"By nature, as part of our company culture, we seek to improve constantly in all phases of our operations. We carry safety stock of spare parts for all equipment on board. From the day the ship leaves the yard, we have our standards in place and we maintain them. In this way, we are responsible and accountable."
Text: Raymond Matera