Ivan Niyakii, Vice President of the Ukrainian Maritime Chamber and CEO of Craneship, writes today for Splash on his wish list to make his country a stronger merchant maritime power.
The Ukrainian maritime industry is not trustworthy. Its market players, international investors and supranational organizations have reason to be wary of Ukraine’s civilian fleet. We remain blacklisted in the Paris MOU, stories of corruption saturate the airwaves, and recent warlike fervor is helping to undermine Ukraine’s maritime credibility. As the CEO of a major Ukrainian shipping company, I can clearly say that this makes it difficult to do honest business. The solution lies in structural reform of the regulator, the Ukrainian Seaports Authority, but is not limited to this. Both government and private companies are responsible for building trust with industry stakeholders.
First, a little background. During the 70 years of Soviet rule, communication practices and even the idea of corporate reputation were not a consideration for industry executives. In the 90s, communications took a dark turn – competitors stepped in and ran negative campaigns. As Ukraine matured, the 2000s and 2010s saw a revival of the PR industry, reputation became important and eventually with the 2014 turn to Europe Ukrainian media began to transform to become more European. But Ukraine’s shipping industry faltered and bogged down in the 2000s.
My industry colleagues and I see three basic communication needs that the Department of Infrastructure and marine trade associations should undertake. First, clear communication of positive reforms to market players and international partners, second, building the capacity of private and public sector maritime personnel on how to communicate, and finally, developing a comprehensive framework for engagement with civil society – in Ukraine and around the world.
First of all, the recently appointed Minister of Infrastructure of Ukraine, Oleksandr Kubrakov, has already carried out important reforms in the maritime sector. Ukrainian seafarers will take exams in English, in a digital format and aligned with global maritime standards. This is an important reform that will significantly improve the level of qualification of Ukrainian seafarers while reducing corruption. But if a tree falls without anyone hearing it, what’s the point?
Market participants need to know how the positive developments will affect them, while international organizations and industry unions need to know that the regulator is on the right track to improve the business climate of the Ukrainian maritime industry. Regular press conferences, wider use of social media and political signaling speeches by the minister himself will enable the Ministry of Infrastructure to comply with international standards.
Secondly, few players in the Ukrainian maritime industry market have a real public relations capacity. If the Ukrainian maritime industry wants to globalize, this must change. Given the significant global attention being given to Ukraine at the moment, Ukrainian shipping companies are in a unique position to build trust with stakeholders – from international organizations to trading partners. Maritime leaders should clarify their position on key industry issues, join professional associations, and make better use of company websites and social media. Communicating the qualities of a company and how it becomes more trustworthy is key to going global.
Finally, if Ukraine wants to continue to adopt European values, the maritime industry must become an environmental and social player in society. A critical part of improving industry culture is better engagement with civil society groups in the area of sustainability and social progress. The regulator and the industry would benefit greatly from listening more to what national and international civil society groups have to say. On many issues, including sustainability, NGOs are the best experts to turn to. As shipping companies, we need to lower our blinders and talk to concerned activist groups about the role we can play in the global fight against the climate emergency, as well as in the conservation of biodiversity in the Black Sea. Not only is engagement with civil society important for Ukraine’s global image, but it will also inspire young talent to choose the maritime industry for the right reasons. Young people are increasingly aware of issues such as sustainability and corporate purpose – to recruit the best, it is up to companies to be progressive on key issues. Ukrainian regulators could start by setting up an advisory body for civil society organizations, while industry players should expand corporate social responsibility practices.
Ukraine has the foundations of a strong civilian fleet. It is blessed with some of the best placed ports on the Black Sea. The next step is for Ukrainian industry and regulators to build trust among themselves, with Ukrainian society as a whole, and with global partners. Improving communications is a key pillar in building trust. Regulators should speak clearly with businesses and better communicate positive reforms. Industry players need to improve their ability to communicate to go global. The regulator and the industry should do more to involve civil society and develop a stronger culture in the maritime industry.