The Marshall Islands, one of the world’s leading flag states, is appointing a new executive management team following the retirement of John Ramage as chief operating officer.

Over the past 20 years, Ramage has been a key figure in the dramatic growth of the Marshall Islands flag through his work at its management company International Registries Inc (IRI).

The current director of worldwide business operations, Theo Xenakoudis, is to replace him as global chief operating officer, in charge of ship registration and commercial matters.

Technical senior vice president Simon Bonnett will become chief maritime officer, heading the technical and operational side of the business.

Bill Gallagher continues as IRI chief executive.

“We’ve given some serious thought to this, and these are the best guys for the job. We see it as a seamless transition,” Ramage said.

The new team will lead the global operation, supported by a network of offices in shipping centres around the world.

Gallagher said the Marshall Islands register has developed into a flag that can provide full ship registration services directly anywhere in the world.

“It is a different organisation compared to when John and I were travelling around the world and bringing in ships and that kind of thing. The infrastructure is there now,” he said.

Since Ramage joined the IRI in 2002, after a career in ship management, the flag has grown from employing fewer than 200 people with a 10m-gt fleet and six offices, to a workforce of 460, 180m gt of ships and 28 offices.

It has developed a service-driven business model with an emphasis on young quality tonnage, achieving whitelist status in the major port state control regions and, most recently, providing digitalised registration and certification.

The average age of the Marshall Islands-registered fleet is 9.9 years, making it the youngest and greenest among the world’s flag states.

Ramage said the business model has proved a recipe for success as the industry has developed more corporate structures and at a time of increasing safety, welfare and environmental regulation and compliance pressures on owners.

Aggressive marketing

Looking back at the development of the flag, he said: “We went through a period when we were known as being quite an aggressive marketing organisation, but you’ve also got to walk the walk.

“So, in response to our success in the market, we’ve backfilled it with a strong infrastructure. And that was the secret because you’ve got to have well-qualified and enthusiastic people to provide the client with the service they are expecting.”

Increased regulatory oversight and the development of a compliance culture has meant that shipowner demands for technical and regulatory guidance from their flag states have also increased.

“Owners expect to get a good service and, at the end of the day, the shipping administrator should be the font of knowledge on the regulatory, safety and technical side. So unless you have that capability, you’re not going to survive,” he said.