Q&A with Dr Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry

By WMU President Dr Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry

In March 2020, IUMI and the World Maritime University (WMU) agreed to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which covers mutual interests in the field of maritime and oceans, the development of expertise, the protection of the marine environment and the building of capacity worldwide. Experts from both IUMI and WMU will collaborate to deliver the highest standard in marine insurance education for students, particularly those studying in the WMU Marine Insurance Law & Practice Postgraduate Diploma programme. Given the growing challenge to bring in new talent, this cooperation will be a facilitator in providing excellence in education for marine underwriters from around the world. On the occasion of the signing of the MoU, IUMI invited WMU President Dr Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry to participate in our IUMI Q&A.


In a nutshell, how would you describe the main role of WMU?

I think I cannot express it better than by quoting the University’s vision and mission statements. WMU’s vision is to inspire leadership and innovation for a sustainable maritime and oceans future, and our mission is to be the world centre of excellence in postgraduate maritime and oceans education, professional training and research, while building global capacity and promoting sustainable development.

Since our foundation in 1983, by the UN’s International Maritime Organization, we have worked to achieve both academic excellence and to support IMO member States in their capacity-building endeavours. And, with over 5,000 graduates from over 170 countries, I think we are making a very real impact in building maritime and oceans expertise around the world.

With our world class postgraduate educational programme, distance learning and executive education as well as our acclaimed research activities in the maritime and oceans fields, WMU plays a key role in fostering the effective implementation of IMO instruments with a view to their universal and uniform application.


What is the biggest challenge facing WMU today?

The biggest challenge to the world today is the COVID-19 pandemic and the havoc it is creating for all countries, institutions, business and daily life. WMU, like all other institutions, is exposed to the pandemic’s negative impact on all our activities. As an academic institution that is totally dependent on voluntary contributions from countries and organisations, keeping our current donors on board is now more important than ever. I would like to pay tribute to the continuing support and expressions of assistance that WMU has received since the pandemic began.

We are innovating in the delivery of our educational offerings, and at times like these, that our small size is invaluable – we have been very flexible, and been able to think outside the box at great speed to adapt our normal working patterns to deal with current challenges and plan for those ahead.

When things return to a “new normal”, the expertise offered by WMU will be absolutely indispensable in re-building the maritime industry. Shipping is vital to world trade, particularly in times like these, to deliver the goods and medical equipment required around the world.


How do WMU and IUMI work together?

WMU and IUMI share a number of common objectives. We both have a truly global perspective on maritime affairs. We recognise that IUMI has consultative status with IMO, WMU’s “parent” organisation. From that perspective, a closer cooperation is a natural step.  

WMU is very supportive of IUMI Members’ identification of education as a key factor to contribute to a variety of insurance-related goals. This relates to all aspects of maritime safety and security, including the protection of the marine environment and upholding health and safety standards for seafarers across the world. For more than 35 years and with an expanding mandate, WMU is committed to provide quality education in maritime affairs and ocean governance. Thus, nobody needs to remind either WMU or the IUMI Members about the importance of a well-educated next generation to lead across all sectors of the maritime industry.

We are very pleased to have a Memorandum of Understanding with IUMI regarding our mutual interests in the field of maritime and oceans, the development of expertise, the protection of the marine environment, and the building of capacity worldwide. I believe that we can share vital information and assist each other to raise awareness of the importance of suitable training programmes. WMU has a long-standing Postgraduate Diploma Programme in Marine Insurance Law & Practice offered by distance learning. The programme is supported by IUMI and has been comprehensively updated and revised for students joining in 2020. In due course, and based on identified specific needs, we could assess whether joint delivery approaches, such as online seminars and webinars or even in-class training could also be pursued.         


Is there anything that you would like to see underwriters do differently or better?

Since WMU is not directly involved in any underwriting business, we certainly have our reservations here and are cautious to provide any “top-down advice” in that regard. Generally, we would appreciate a more holistic approach to maritime affairs across all sectors of the maritime industry and that would include also marine underwriting.

In particular, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) should not be seen as only remotely relevant. Rather, the quest to achieve the UNSDGs affects marine insurance as an industrial service sector directly – because the UNSDGs contribute to global stability, to a less chaotic world, if you will. The UNSDGs reduce business uncertainties which are relevant to underwriting. From the WMU perspective, it is important to see the interconnectedness of activities, especially in the maritime and oceans fields.

The targets and indicators of all 17 UNSDGs provide many examples for that view. Let me give you just one broad example: Goal No. 14 (“Life Below Water”) includes indicators which could be abbreviated as “reducing marine pollution” and “implementing international sea law”. This includes the understanding that shipping must comply with globally-agreed rules and that there are no legal loopholes in implementation and enforcement. Compliant ships will experience fewer business disruptions and will definitely generate fewer claims. This is simplified, of course, but it is the case. You can create the same example for decent working conditions under globally-agreed maritime labour law standards in relation to personal injury cases.      


Do you have a view on the current state of the marine insurance market? 

Like all other institutions, WMU has of course been affected by the global COVID-19 crisis, and we understand that this effect is also felt in the marine insurance sector - this crisis may well have an effect on premiums, for example. But the global pandemic will also be a driver of change. Even long before the crisis, WMU noted that new trends emerge in marine insurance as a result of a rapidly changing technological environment.

In particular, digitalisation, artificial intelligence, handling “Big Data” and approaches to “Insurtech” are topics of increasing importance for the marine insurance market. There may be a decentralising effect which will change the traditional nature of marine underwriting. A number of WMU’s ongoing research projects are of cross-cutting relevance here as well. For example, our 2019 flagship report entitled: “Transport 2040: Automation Technology Employment - the Future of Work”.


If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing in the shipping industry what would it be?

It is the global public perception of international shipping where I would like to see a real change. In many countries, the general public is often unaware of the indispensable services provided by shipping, in particular by seafarers, all over the world. It is saddening to see that seafarers are among the hidden victims of the COVID-19 crisis and that the important role they play is not sufficiently recognised. The effective implementation and application of international regulations relating to seafarer rights and their need for protection, including the handling of crew-changes efficiently in a time of a global pandemic, are so difficult to achieve.    


If you were not in your current role what would be your ideal job?

If I were not in my current role as President of the World Maritime University, I would have been spending a lot of time writing and publishing on labour, maritime and environmental issues, as well as helping to support capacity building for developing countries on these issues. One of my personal passions is the empowerment of women in the maritime and oceans world, and my work towards that at WMU will be carried on whatever I find myself doing in the future.


What do you like doing when not working?  

Walking, spending time with my family and reading.