Ship agents and brokers come in many shapes and sizes. From the large global marine service providers with representatives in all the world’s major ports to small family run concerns, the role of a ship agent is to represent the interests of the shipowner or charterer while the ship is in port by providing assistance or advice required. Ship broking activity may also be handled by ship agents, but the role of the ship broker is to act as an intermediary between the shipowner/charterer or the buyers and sellers of ships. The broker is involved in many stages of a deal: presenting the business to potential clients, negotiating the main terms of a contract or sale, finalising the details of the contract and following the deal through to its conclusion. Increasingly shipbrokers also provide their clients with a wide range of market intelligence and advice.
The ship agent is defined in the new IMO FAL Convention, which came into force on 1st January 2018, as follows:
Ship agent. The party representing the ship’s owner and/or charterer (the Principal) in port. If so instructed, the agent is responsible to the Principal for arranging, together with the port, a berth, all relevant port and husbandry services, tending to the requirements of the Master and crew, clearing the ship with the port and other authorities (including preparation and submission of appropriate documentation) along with releasing or receiving cargo on behalf of the Principal.
In that role, the agent is often called a port agent and, amongst other duties, undertakes the following key roles:
- Booking the vessel in and out of the port, and arranging the pilot and tug boat services
- Providing information on the crew and any passengers to the local immigration authorities
- Ensuring the ship’s documentation complies with international regulations prior to Customs inspection
- Preparing quarantine pre-arrival report (QPAR) which provides details on the crew, the ship’s previous route and any deaths or illnesses which may have occurred during the voyage
- Advising Customs of the ship’s arrival and reporting the cargo on board
- Logistics involved with provisions and fuel
- Providing the stevedore’s ship planner with the manifest which gives detailed information on the cargo to be handled
- Liaising with stevedores and terminal operators regarding the safe handling of containers, break-bulk and bulk liquids, and ensuring that the ship’s master is aware of shore requirements
- Organising crew changes, any associated immigration documentation and arrangements such as booking flights
- Paying the crew
- Handling ship services including repairs and maintenance
In practice however, the agent can act for any of the parties involved in the voyage and in any capacity as agreed between the agent and the principal. A presentation giving more detailed information about the roles, responsibilities and obligations of the ship agent can be downloaded here.
Ship brokers will usually work in one of the following specialist areas, although some brokers may be active in more than one.
- Owners brokers are appointed by shipowners to secure vessel or cargo charters for their vessels. Their main interest is to favor and protect the owner by negotiating the best terms and revenue.
- Charterers brokers work under instruction from the charterer and are expected to circulate and negotiate his order for tonnage to secure the most favorable fixture for the cargo interests.
- Independent brokers provide their services to both owners and charterers on a no win, no fee basis.
- Sale & Purchase brokers represent one party in a deal to buy or sell new or secondhand tonnage.