Lloyd’s List – Driving force behind recycling standard says goodbye to the IMO

(Written by Nigel Lowry)

12 December 2012 - Hong Kong International Convention on ship recycling is Mikelis’ career landmark

YEARS ago, when he was asked at the outset of a postgraduate degree course what he envisaged for his future, Nikos Mikelis could only say: “I want to be internationally known.”

Although he had a reputation in shipping before joining the International Maritime Organization, it is as head of the marine pollution prevention and ship recycling section of its marine environment division that he has seen this destiny truly fulfilled.

Dr Mikelis will leave Albert Embankment at the end of this year, his tenure having being torched by UN age rules, but his act will be a hard one to follow.

Highly rated associate professional officer Simon Leyers, who has served in the section for the last year, will take over his responsibilities but the IMO is expected to advertise the position next year.

Dr Mikelis’ move to join a new brokerage operation attached to the giant recycling site opening next year in Dalian, northern China is not as incongruous as it may seem to those familiar only with his career as a shipping bureaucrat.

He admits to having faced a steep learning curve when he started work for the IMO seven years ago, but he brought with him an already-rich practical knowledge of the industry from roles in research, classification — he was previously principal surveyor for Lloyd’s Register — and ship operations, as a director of Lyras Brothers.

For some years Dr Mikelis chaired Intertanko’s safety, technical and environmental committee, making it more pro-active and higher-profile in addressing the challenges of the post-Erika era.

In that position, he was a leader of a campaign for improved newbuilding standards and acted as a catalyst for progress on permanent means of access, coatings for oil cargo tanks and other demands that ultimately led to the establishment of the IMO’s goal-based standards and development of the condition assessment scheme for single-hull tankers.

For a spell, he also served as an independent industry consultant for the Union of Greek Shipowners, Intertanko, the Liberian registry and others.

With ship recycling, he had direct experience of sale and purchase, numbered lawyers, brokers and cash buyers among his personal contacts and could bring a formidable understanding of the fundamentals of the shipping market and its governance to the task.

The resulting Hong Kong International Convention on ship recycling is probably Dr Mikelis’ greatest single achievement in a 35-year career spent restlessly inquiring how the shipping industry works, contributing to solutions in numerous areas and fighting for higher standards.

While he is liked and admired by many in the shipping world, he had to learn diplomacy to temper his individualistic style of dealing with issues and people.

Of the Hong Kong Convention, which was developed in record time, he says: “I know that it is fit for practical implementation and that it will make a real difference in lifting standards of safety and environmental protection in places where ships are recycled.

“Now it is up to the countries of the world to ratify the convention.”

He adds: “I have no doubt that it is only a question of time until this happens.”

His one regret, though, is that he was unable to build constructive relations with green activists during his time at the IMO.

Dr Mikelis tells Lloyd’s List that he sees the new job helping a UK broker to source international tonnage for the new Dalian recycling base as “all in all a fitting way to continue with some of the things that I have been working on”.

He will also continue his relationship with Bangladesh, promoting higher standards in the shipbreaking business there.