[INFOGRAPHIC] Shipping Agency: what are they and why it’s important to hire one

  • 25/09/2019
  • 14 minutes

According to the National Federation of Marine Navigation Agencies (Federação Nacional das Agências de Navegação Marítima — Fenamar), the origin of shipping agencies has been lost in time. It’s easy to see why: transportation by sea has always been one of the main ways of trading items between continents. Until today, it’s responsible for about 90% of international commerce, according to the International Chamber of Shipping.

You can also listen to this article in the audio version.

In remote times, the captain of each vessel appeared as the protagonist to represent the shipowner on all the different ports it went to. However, over time, the rise of international commerce rendered that impractical. Therefore, nowadays, the shipping agency acts as a representative and is essential for the operation between ports.

In this article, you will better understand what are shipping agencies, what are the advantages that a qualified agent is able to provide to the ship’s charterer and how the Wilson Sons stands apart in this area. Check it out!

What are maritime agencies?

Maritime agencies are representatives of the shipowner or charterer in each port. The agents are responsible for circulating essential information between everyone involved in marine transportation, such as the shipowner, the charterer, the port authorities, and the customs agents.

They are a connection between the ship and the ports, providing authorities with all the necessary data for the documentation involved both on the arrival at the port and in the berthing of the ship.

Imagine, for instance, that a lone Tramp vessel flying the Chinese flag and carrying a Filipino crew wishes to enter a Brazilian port. The coordination between all of those variables next to the port authorities involves a series of minutiae that are particular to each port, and the shipowner would hardly have knowledge of them all.

A shipping agency, on the other had, is expert on the details involved in each port that it operates on and, because of that, is able to provide all the documents that are necessary for the ship’s operations within their due dates. Besides, the agency knows the local suppliers and holds an cordial  relationship with the authorities.

How is a maritime agency appointed?

Shipping agencies are considered a part of the port expenses, so the shipowner is generally the one in charge of paying for them. However, he or she is not necessarily the one who chooses which agency to hire.

When the charterer nominates a maritime agent, the shipowner has the right of appointing another one — a so-called “protective agent”. This person works specifically to guarantee the interests of the shipowner in the operation, even though they are not responsible for any of the minutiae involved on the liberation of the ship.

Why do you need to hire a maritime agency?

From the charterer’s point of view, shipping agents are key in several operational fronts. Not only do they carry out the regularization of the necessary documents, but they also provide valuable information related to market and portuary intelligence.

Now, you will see some of the advantages that hiring a capable shipping agency can bring about.

Help with the documentation

Each port has its own documentation requirements. Port authorities and organizations such as the National Sanitary Surveillance Agency (Agência Nacional de Vigilância Sanitária — Anvisa), the Ministry of Agriculture and the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis — Ibama) also demand specific information and certifications, according to the type of cargo being transported. There is also the minutiae involved in the arrival of a foreign crew, which might need assistance with their visas.

Taking care of all that and much more, such as controlling the containers and demurrage charges, is the responsibility of the maritime agents. They analyze each authority’s requirements and collect all the information with the people involved in the operations. Hence, they can fill out the Sole Virtual Document (Documento Único VirtualDUV), which is essential for vessels to be able to dock in Brazil.

Anvisa, for instance, requires the Free Practice Certificate (Certificado de Livre Prática) to allow for the boarding and landing of travellers, cargo, or supplies. This certificate can only be emitted provided the designated fee is paid. However, this payment takes 48 hours to be processed, and Anvisa only checks the ship’s information after the payment has been cleared. Ergo, both the filling of the information and the payment must be made two days prior to the arrival of the ship at the port.

This example might seem elementary, but it represents only one of the many documents and specifications involved in maritime operations. Taking care of all of those details is no easy task, and being careless with any of them might lead to onerous delays. Neglecting the Free Practice Certificate, for instance, can result on the ship remaining anchored for days.

Market and portuary intelligence optimization

The best maritime agencies have been operating on the Brazilian ports for decades. Besides having access to the daily lineup listing all the vessels which are expected in the country — complete with information about their cargo, origin, and destination —, they have a huge data catalog that can provide market intelligence to their clients.

In practice, the data collected by the agencies make way for analysis which are valuable for you to read the market, permitting the charterer to know, for example, the import and export details of the commodities with which he or she works.

The maritime agent is also fundamental for gathering information about each port. Aside from the fact that each one has specific characteristics and rules, they can also change at any time, so it’s important for the charterer to be able to count on a representative that’s attuned to these changes as soon as they occur.

Even more so, major agencies have agents placed in several ports, which facilitates the exchange of information between these professionals, if the charterer operates in more than one shore point. Thus, you won’t need to redo the work of providing basic data to the agencies multiple times.

Productivity improvement

A skilled maritime agent will also help improve the contractor’s productivity. Since they oversee everything that happens on the port, they can quickly inform if there are any favorable or unfavorable conditions to the ship’s arrival — if there is cargo which cannot be exposed to the rain, for example, it’s important to be aware of the climatic conditions in real time.

Furthermore, an expert maritime agency is able to orient the contractor about logistical questions, such as which terminals offer a better cost-benefit for refuelling, which terminals are available for storage, quantity and availability of the cargo for loading, and guidance about the best suppliers for services such as provisions for the ship, cars or motorboats for the crew, and spare parts transportation.

What are the advantages of Wilson Sons?

As we’ve shown so far, hiring an agency involves a series of factors which are extremely important for the success of maritime transport. Choosing an inexperienced agency, or one which has not been properly referred to you, is one of the greatest mistakes a charterer or shipowner can commit, because it puts the whole charter in danger.

The Wilson Sons is an excellent choice, first of all, because of its long-standing market expertise. With a history of more than 180 years on the Brazilian shore, it is one of the oldest companies in the country. The group’s proficiency goes beyond agency work, including also maritime support in offshore operations, naval industry, logistics, harbor and ocean towing, and terminal segments.

Likewise, another advantage of Wilson Sons is its specialty in various segments, which guarantee an alignment with clients from areas such as agrobusiness, steel, mining, oil, and gas.

And there’s more: it’s the only agency which covers the entire Brazilian shore, while many others work with “subagencies” that are subcontracted in each port. This is very important for you to be able to count on interlinked agents throughout the whole country. The company also has exclusive representatives in China and in Europe.

Now that you’ve gained a clearer understanding of what are and what’s the importance of maritime agencies, do you still have any doubts or thoughts on the matter? Leave your comment below and join the conversation!