Shipping agencies — understand the particularities of operations and documentation

  • 23/07/2019
  • 11 minutes

shipping agencies operate in a field that many people have doubts about. What are, after all, the particularities that require attention in a charter party, for example? What demands more care when planning a route?

Considering the great relevance these questions have for the sector, we prepared this article. By reading it, you’ll understand what are the main details involved in the operations and in the documentation required in the context of shipping agencies.

Enjoy the article!

What are the agency’s operations and what’s their importance?

In order to elaborate this article, we talked to Mônica Baldo — an expert in shipping agencies — and to Márcio Panisset — who acts as an operations manager.

In short, the shipping agent is, the one who takes care of cargo management, carrying out his or her tasks in a way as to satisfy the needs of the shipowner or of the charterer when dealing with, for example:

  • maritime authorities;
  • service providers;
  • people involved with scheduling demands.

Therefore, “this figure works as a mandatary, acting always on behalf and by order of the charterer or of the shipowner to attend, in the best way possible, to the demands presented by them — looking for the best prices, setting up a quicker schedule, mapping quality services for the ship etc.”, explains Baldo.

The importance of this activity is due to the fact that, in the navigation market (both offshore and cargo), an agency is an essential component. Although it might seem small around the whole financial volume involved, it acts so as to avoid mistakes and for negotiations to develop in the best possible way.

After all, “if something fails, as simple as it might be, the operation may be compromised, leading the ship to stay idle for a long time at the port or stopping cargo operations or clearance”, says Baldo. Therefore, the agency is an entity that’s fundamental for the process.

What’s the agency’s connection to safety?

Since the agent acts on behalf and by order of the charterer, that is, as a mandatary when dealing with the authorities involved in the operation, choosing this professional should be done with the utmost care. Consequently, the shipping agency that’s hired should reunite experience, knowledge about laws, and a good relationship with public agencies.

Besides, “the agency is connected to safety in several ways. When determining the necessary information for a ship to go to a certain port, for example, you need to make sure the vessel’s draft is compatible with the terminal and with the access point, if the number of tugboats available is enough for the maneuver, and so on”, points out Panisset.

Therefore, good agencies try to not only follow their own safety requirements, but also work to get to know the rules of the other terminals in order to obey them and guarantee the tranquility of the operation.

According to Panisset, “some companies even count with internal resources to promote the maintenance of the requirements, so as to establish them and connect them to the organizational culture as well”. Thus, when the respective professionals start living that reality in their own routines, it’s easier to obey those requirements.

How do cargo operations differ from documentation?

The operational side is the front of the agency’s operations, that is, it’s the professional taking care of it that will get in touch with the vessel, gain information on the ship — arrival date, daily notes etc. —, and communicate with the authorities on behalf of the charterer. It’s more tangible. The documentation side takes care of the bureaucratic demands: inputs into government systems, documents required for imports, and so on.

Usually, operational services are related to the ship and to cargo documentation. Documentation services, on the other hand, are tied to the documents and to operational verification — documents which are then presented at the ports, a task carried out by the operational agent, based on the documentation presented by the charterer.

In this way, when the documents are related to the cargo or to the repositioning of empty containers, it’s treated and dealt with by the agent, who acts as a mandatary of the shipowner, therefore acting on his or her behalf.

In the case of liner ships, with partnerships with shipowners for a single maritime operation, each mandatary shipping agent prepares the cargo documentation of their respective principal shipowners. It’s up to the operational shipowner the responsibility of scaling in the merchant system, as well as of registering docking and undocking in the Siscomex Cargo software.

When loading “tramp” cargo, most of the time, the operational agent takes care of the cargo documentation. However, some agencies have been innovating in this sense: according to contracts closed directly with the clients, they start carrying out on behalf and by order of their clients all operations related to documentation, even when they’re not responsible for the operational area.

What are the particularities of each?

The main particularity is related to the proximity to the vessel. The operational agent has a dynamic and intense contact with it and with the terminals, because he or she deals with the day-to-day of the operation. This agent must guarantee that everything is going on as planned. This connection begins much earlier, from the moment someone sents a relation of how much it will cost to have the ship in a certain port and other such details.

“Documentational services are completely different, considering the connection with the daily routine of the operation is much smaller and more virtual. The demands of this agent are related to meeting deadlines and registering information in specific systems; the processes are accompanied from a distance”, distinguishes Panisset.

When to hire each of these modalities?

Any operation should hire a cargo operations agent. This becomes even more important when we consider the relevance of this modality in relation to the vessel’s documentation.

On the other hand, hiring an agent to handle the documentation is recommended in cases where there’s cargo transport or container repositioning. It’s worth pointing out that, if the vessel carries cargo to other countries, it’s important that information be input in the government systems (Mercante and Siscomex Cargo).

“Sometimes, exporters and other major players hire only document emission. However, the common practice is for both to act alongside each other in most parts of the processes — both types of activities of an agent are important”, recommends Baldo.

Finally, having an agency to deal with cargo, both operational and documentational, is important for the chartering, import, export, and cabotage markets, as well as for international cargo transit. Therefore, it’s fundamental that you know them before beginning any type of work in the area.

If you enjoyed this article, don’t miss out on the chance of also understanding how a shipping agency can help your business!