What is a ship's agent ?

A ship's agent by definition is the person or company who looks after the interests of principal shipping lines and its ships while at port. The responsibility of a shipping agent includes arranging for pilotage, towage and berthing of ship at port, arranging bill of lading and collection of freight. He is also responsible for bringing the business for the shipliner within its country or region covered and accordingly earns commission on it. There are mainly two types of shipping agents active in the industry : Liner ship agent and Tramp ship agent.

Liner agents primarily represent different principals having liner ships (container vessels) operated on pre-determined, scheduled, advertised ports of loading and discharge on a regular basis. The principal-agent relationship is maintained with the binding of not undertaking any competitive business or taking any agency activities on behalf of competitive lines. The responsibility of the agent also includes marketing for the principal and getting maximum business. Usually a liner agent gets around 5% of the freight collected by him from the principal.

Tramp shipping agents are not banded to any principal. Normally, the unscheduled cargo carriers chartered for the particular voyage are handled by these agents on job-to-job basis. Tramp shipping agent undertakes the job for many shipping companies and the job duration may vary from single to continuous jobs.

What are the different services
offered by an agent?


Stevedoring, involves operations relating to loading and discharging of cargo to / from the vessels to docks in the course of import and export trade. The job of stevedoring service providers primarily involves the supply of equipment and labour, direction for the handling of cargo and loading and unloading of vessels in the port. However, a historical difference exists between the job of 'stevedoring' and 'loading' as the operations of moving goods from ship's side until they are safely stored within the vessel is called stevedoring, while loading involves movements of good from berth to ship's side. Stevedores handle only dry cargo of bulk, break bulk and containerised type. Mechanized cargo handling facilities are applied for handling of dry bulk cargo thereby reducing the responsibility of stevedores, break bulk and containerised cargo requires stevedoring.

Seaport activities

Seaports are the interface between maritime and inland modes of transport for movement of goods and passengers.

In broader terms, ports are single organisational units with multi-dimensional activities integrated within the logistics chain for providing services to maritime trade. The prime objective of a seaport is to provide fast and safe transit of goods and passengers through its facilities at minimal cost.

In the new era of liberalisation and privatisation, the concept of a seaport is a mere physical hub of maritime activities to being a link in the larger logistic chain that connects the origin of cargo to its final point of delivery, i.e. the consignee to the consigner.

Lighterage is the combination of several independent activities using small sized barges or lighters for the purpose of carrying cargo discharged from an ocean going vessel in order to lighten or reduce its weight. On the other hand 'Barging', an integral part of the macro process of lighterage activities, involves carrying of cargo consignment in small vessels, where the intention may not be to lighten the mother vessel but to transport cargo from one place to another (e.g. silt barging) or carry potable water to the mother vessel. Though lighterage and barging are quite different activities, both have been considered under the port sector for simplification.

Clearing and Forwarding

The job of Customs House Agent (CHA) or Clearing & Forwarding agent is an absolute necessity for any kind of import-export trade, which involves processing of documents with Customs authority. The role of CHA is to pass all the documents required for export-import trade through from Customs on behalf of shippers by paying the requisite customs duty.

The Clearing & Forwarding process is marred due to cumbersome customs procedures involving high volume of paper works. In order to streamline the Customs formalities, different Port Trusts and Customs Department in many countries have come out with the idea of EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) and are implementing the EDI process in selected major ports to reduce the paper works. However, the process has yet to be fully implemented due to inability of respective personnel in ports and Customs to adapt to new technology. However, the industry believes in a rapid integration of this technology.

Shipping Management

Ship management is the business of manning, equipping, provisioning and maintaining a ship. It broadly includes technical, commercial, and crew management of ships. Maintenance, dry-docking and technical upgradation of ship is the responsibility of technical management. Commercial management involves decisions regarding vessel deployment and sale and purchase while, crew management takes care of recruitment and selection of technical, deck side officers and ratings people.

Classification and Survey

Ship survey concentrates on ship classification societies that register the ships under a particular class and flag.

The technical rules, regulations, standards, guidelines and associated surveys and inspections covering the design, construction and through-life compliance of a ship's structure and essential engineering and electrical system are the main concerns of the classification societies. International Maritime Organization (IMO), through their various conventions require certification, that the above mentioned elements are satisfactory for the service for which the ship is intended. To attain the highest structural and engineering standards in the merchant ships, classification societies form the basis on which the statutory certification is issued. It also provides the technical support, compliance verification and research and development. Periodic surveys are carried out to ensure the continued compliance of rules after the construction of the ship. These include various surveys of hull and machinery on a continuing basis.

Ship Supplier

Operation of the vessel needs various consumables in the form of bunker, lubricants, fresh water, stores and others.

Ship chandeliers provide food and provisions to the ship for the next journey in the sea. It also arranges for the services of the doctor, washerman and others when the ship is at port. The shipping agent of the company or the ship manager normally arranges for the ship chandelier to serve its client. Increasingly these shipping agents and ship managers are entering into the field of supplies.

Ships have to have the adequate supply of fresh water on it, which they purchase on the port they visit. Many of these fresh water suppliers own the barges to supply water for the vessels like tankers, which does not come inside the port for berthing. The vessels at the lighterage port also take services from the fresh water supplying barges.

The industry of ship suppliers is highly fragmented with a significant number of small companies active in this sector. Various other specialised players like dredging companies, shipping agents, ship managers, stevedores etc. are also entering into the business of ship suppliers to leverage on their experience and good contacts within the shipping industry.

However, bunker and lubricant supply to the ship is dominated by the large sized players like Castrol, Shell, Indian Oil Corporation and other public limited companies. These companies supply bunker or lubricant to the ship owner either directly or through their agents.