Role of the shipping agent:
Owner/Charterer Representative. Shipping agents have been in existence for over a hundred years. The oldest operating companies dates back to such time span. Every time a ship visits a port, the owner or charterer (lessor of the vessel) needs to appoint a shipping agent as representative of his own interest in the port of visit. The shipping agent will be the sole appointed figure between the vessel owner/charterer and the country’s authorities and suppliers during the port stay of the ship. He will be entitled to liaise with all the relevant parties in the place of the owner to arrange of a whole range of goods and services required by the ship during its port stay.
Responsibilities of the shipping agent
Before the arrival of the ship, the shipping agent will receive a nomination from the vessel owner/charterer or the upcoming port call. Once the nomination is received, the shipping agent starts to prepare for the visit of the ship. Amongst other things this procedure will include: • Berth/Anchorage Spot booking for the vessel with the port authorities (Call announcement). • Liaison with the various service suppliers (Courier services, Water Taxis, Ship Chandlers, Fresh Water Supply, Bunker Suppliers, Transportation services etc…) for scheduling and delivery of goods and services to the vessel. • Liaison with the various authorities required in providing different services to the vessel (Custom, Authorities, Fire Fighting Services etc…). • All in all the shipping agent is fully responsible and liable to ensure that ships visiting its port of operations are provided with all required goods and services in a timely, efficient and above all legally respectful manner. The services provided by a ship agent can indeed be quite complex depending on the nature and purpose of the port call.
Over the last two to three decades, there has been the development of the agency hub concepts. These are basically shipping agencies which decided to expand their borders with multiple offices around the world. Logically, the first ports to see the representation of such common company offices, were ports with the highest amount of traffic. The shipping agency hubs hence proposes to owners and charterers the option of serving them at the different port stops of their vessels, thereby taking away the hassle of having to individually appoint shipping agents at different port of calls. There are quite a few names these days in the market, but a few of the bigger ones such as Wilhelmsen do stand out of the lot. PAS is as well a multinational with offices present in Mauritius, South Africa and Sri Lanka.
The shipping agent needs to be properly licensed to be able to operate. The licensing requirements varies from country to country. However, the standard and common licenses required all around the world include:
- 1. A port license a. This document is normally awarded by the Port Authorities/Management of the country. The document is normally awarded after a thorough check of the directors and shareholders of the company to ensure that they are bona fide characters. In most countries, the applicant for the port license must also prove that it already holds nomination by vessel owner/charterers. Such proof is required at application time.
- 2. Common company formation documents (Certificate of Incorporation…).
It would be very difficult to provide an exhaustive list of services provided by shipping agents as these are very much varied. It would be even more so difficult to classify these in terms of importance as most of the provided services are part of a chain of services. However, the most common types of services provided by mostly all existing shipping agents around the world include:
- Crew Changes
- Clearance and Delivery of Spares.
- Assistance to sick crew/Emergency Evacuations
Reception and transiting of crew personnel wither joining the ship or leaving it.
The shipping agent is responsible for the coordination for the delivery of bunkers between the various authorities (Port, Fire, Customs…), the vessel owner/charterer and the bunker suppliers.
It is very frequent that a ship stopping at a port will need spare parts to be delivered to the ship for subsequent minor repairs by the on-board ship engineers/technicians. The shipping agent has the duty, to liaise with the ship owners, the part supplier, the forwarding company, and custom brokers etc… to ensure that the part is duly delivered in a timely fashion to the vessel.
The shipping agent is also responsible to evacuate sick/injured crew as swiftly as possible from any ship visiting the port for such purposes. The efficiency of the shipping agent filtered down through its boarding agent is here literally a factor of life or death. The shipping agency must have the right procedures put in place for handling such cases. Anything less short of professional services would spell catastrophe in such cases. Necessary medical consultation/facilities need to be timely arranged to cater for such cases. Such events do regularly happen in the shipping business.
Ground works effectuated by the shipping agency is done via boarding agents (also referred sometimes to as boarding officers or water clerks). These trained individuals to the physical moving around for the carrying out of the previously described procedures. Working as a boarding officer is a challenging tasks and highly performing individuals needs to have a wide range of skills including; great interpersonal skills and well spoken English (to be able to communicate properly both via mail and on ground with the various parties involved). These officers also need to be physically fit as they need to move around quite a lot and even using ladders on regular occasions to board ships with high standing decks. The job also does not have a fixed work hour schedule as ships may visit any port in any country at any time, even though if it has been announced previously. For obvious reasons ETAs when it comes to ship can quite much vary and is quite different in this sense from the aviation business.
All in all, the shipping agent is at the heart of any shipping operation being carried out at any port around the world. Its efficiency and professionalism can make or break a ship owner/charterers business (literally), especially in case of time charters. Most shipping agents in this sense a bound to the level of the service to be provided by a formal written contract with the ship visiting its port. Evident negligence on his part can (and has in the past) resulted in court cases. The shipping agent as such has to constantly review and improve the way it which its services are being delivered, ensuring that these services are to the required quality and legal standards and as well reasonably priced as the market practice. If you have any further queries regarding shipping agents especially as relates to Mauritius, South Africa or Sri Lanka, do not hesitate to contact us at Email: firstname.lastname@example.org