Is the ship-agent losing contact with the vessel?
We would like to present ourselves as ‘the ship agent’, the first guy to walk on the gangway on arrival of a vessel in port, sometimes in the middle of the night, when the linesmen are still busy adding more mooring ropes. The man who meets the disembarking pilot on the stairs. The person to discuss the planning, procedures and port regulations with the tired Captain and preparing all necessary paperwork before the immigration and custom-authorities will arrive. As the last guy to leave the vessel before her departure after delivering the cargo documents and statement of facts, with the pilot waiting on the bridge and tug boats fastened, steaming and ready to pull the ship from the quay-side.
We would like to see ourselves like that, or we look back with some sort of melancholy, thinking about the old days when the only way to communicate with a vessel was to send a Telex or by visiting the vessel in person.
I Can’t speak for other ports, but in Rotterdam the agent has become the operator who is coordinating the port-call from behind a computer screen. The man who happens to be in possession of an account with the port-authorities and a login-code to enter the central system from where all ship movements are being coordinated.
Theoretically it would be possible to arrange the complete port call sitting in a chair at the other side of the world.
Most agents hardly ever visit any vessel. Some agencies might have a special water clerk or boarding agent, driving around to deliver spare-parts that arrived at the agent’s office prior vessel’s arrival, or they hire someone to do it for them. When a vessel really needs proper assistance, some agents hire an interim project manager to make the necessary arrangements on their / ship-owners behalf.
We are still used to, or it is still compulsory to appoint an agent in a foreign port but how will this be 10 years from now? Will your port agent in Rotterdam be the person sitting behind a computer in India? Who knows…
Is it for an agent nowadays still necessary to visit a vessel, without this being more than a courtesy visit? I believe it is. More often I hear from ship-chandlers, mechanics or other suppliers to the vessel that they are receiving requests from the ship’s crew to arrange small or larger supplies or labour which should be in my opinion the task of a good agent with an extensive network. The agents should use their contacts to provide these services in a competitive way, representing the interests of the Owners, even when originally appointed by the Charterers. The identity of the agent is disappearing, his tasks have been decreased by own doing and behaviour and his contact with the ship is decreasing. The vessel does not personally know the agent, how to contact the agent or sees the agent as the company mainly to inform upon arrival, shifting or departure.
Despite all modern technology and means of communication the ship-agent is losing contact with the ship’s Captain and the crew. I’m not saying that a good performance and service lies in a simple personal visit to the vessel in port, but I believe that I Master would easier rely on the services of an agent he has actually met.
You might state that a lot of modern ships are only in port for a few hours and a visit would cost the agents valuable hours and that present fees are not covering that. I’m convinced that visiting the ship’s regularly will increase the efforts of the agent to perform and to be a good service provider. Besides, many Captains of today will be the managers and executives in the coming future. It is a networking opportunity and a chance to be recommended by the captain after a job wel done.