#DidYouKnow: The Ship Agent
When we think about the arrival of a vessel to the port, the first thing we think about is the loading or discharging of the cargo. Even though this is not entirely incorrect, many ships have more specific requirements and needs upon arrival. This is where the role of the ship agent comes in, and this is what we chose to focus on in this post for our #DidYouKnow series.
Who is a ship agent?
When a ship arrives at a port, a local representative needs to help the captain (and his crew) with documentation and operations native to the port of call. The interesting thing about this is that the shipowner does not always have exclusive representatives or offices in each of the ports where his ship calls. In this light, the figure of the ship agent comes to fore.
Shipowners who have vessels with very regular and specific port calls may consider the investment of having an administrative structure on ashore. In most cases, this does not apply. This is why shipowners hire companies to act on their behalf to assist the ship in all of its needs. The agencies or shipping agents will be the representatives of the shipowner in that port for one call or for a defined period of time. From then on, the captain will know how to handle all his requests and administrative tasks.
What does a ship agent do?
An effective and productive shipping agent tries to meet all of the demands of the vessel. A vessel’s requests can be very varied. There are routine demands, and as well as particular and unique needs that test the capacity of the ship agent or even the logistics or technical services that the port can offer.
Within the routine activities of the ship agent is the document management that begins prior to the arrival of the vessel. These administrative procedures inform the port of the arrival of the incoming ship, and the request for the quay and the declaration of the cargo manifest can be made.
Another priority function is the management and needs of the crew. Supplies of food, office materials, medicines, migration and repatriation arrangements, local medical assistance and even the increasingly frequent supply of e-commerce packages.
The ship’s operational supplies such as fuel, waste management, piloting service, and the use of tugs are tied to the hiring of the ship agent, who assumes these costs on behalf of the shipowner. All of these arrangements require significant monetary agreements to guarantee payments.
Ship agents take on a multitude of roles to support a vessel whilst in port
Alongside these procedures, physical maintenance of the vessel also needs to be attended to. Routine needs increase with the increasing age of the vessel, so the requirements for spare parts, inspections and technical supplies become much more frequent. Technical repairs and calibrations to machines, maintenance inspections of safety equipment such as rafts, fire extinguishers, vests or fire-fighting systems are just some of the needs. Updating of navigation equipment, supply of personal protection materials and maintenance materials such as paints, anti-corrosives or lubricants are becoming more and more frequent.
One of the common practices is to assign a person who will be in charge of following up on all the vessel’s requirements. The normal practice is that this person visits the ship at least upon arrival and before departure, trying not only to meet the needs but also to provide a service that will generate a good impression to the owner in order to get the contract and loyalty in future port calls.
Shipowners try to have agreements with shipping agencies that are present in several ports, and therewith speed up the procedures and build beneficial alliances for both parties. It is very common that a large shipping agency has representations in other ports or sub-agreements with other agencies for particular representations.
The ship agent is fundamental for the operation of a ship in a port. There is no doubt that technology has helped improve and streamline their functions – making it possible for the tasks they carry out to be faster and more versatile. Nevertheless, their operational presence and the legal responsibility that they represent cannot be replaced by technology and will continue to be a fundamental activity in the arrival of ships in port.
The Escola delves more into the topic of shipping agents and activities involved in port operations during its annual summer school. The next edition of the summer school will be held in the summer of 2021. For more information, you can visit the course page or contact us for more detailed information.
Vanessa Beixiga – Maritime Operations Engineer
Need a visual?
This concise video prepared by the Consorzio Formazione Logistica Intermodale CFLI in Venice shows you the role of the ship agent in more detail – please note though that the audio is in Italian, with English subtitles provided.
Want to know more?
The role of the ship agent is one of the things covered in the Escola’s annual Summer School on operations. The practical course-workshop is divided into two weeks that focus on different aspects surrounding port operations for vessels and for goods. For more information check out the course pages: