What’s it like working as an Agent? The list of ‘jobs’ that need to be done when a ship calls at a port is exhaustive – arranging for loading and unloading of cargo, purchasing stores, arranging crew changes, organising inspections, booking repairs… and so on. Add to that the need to have local contacts in every port that the ship calls to successfully, and cost effectively, perform those duties, and the importance of a local agent becomes clear. Acting for, or on behalf of, another, Agents provide an onsite operations person with knowledge of the ins and outs of conducting business in a particular port, in locations where the ship owner or operator may not have an office or personnel.
What kind of work can I do? An Agent’s duties can include giving notification of arrival and departure of the ship; acceptance of the ship’s loading and discharge plans; arranging repairs; arranging berths, tugs, harbour pilots, and launches; ordering stevedores, cranes, and equipment; meeting the requirements of the Master, which could cover fuel purchases, stores, repairs, and crew repatriation; providing customs, immigration and port health formalities brokerage; collection of freight; collection and issuing of bills of lading; and completion of manifests. Some Agents also take on a sales and marketing role for the principal, while others may arrange hatch and cargo surveys for the ship. Basically, an Agent will co-ordinate anything a ship needs while it is in port. Where can I work? As consultants, Agents can operate as sole traders, or through large multi-national agency networks. While Agents typically have a ship management background, there is no set route to becoming a Agent, although strong local contacts and an understanding of the maritime business will certainly help. Some multi-national agencies recruit through graduate programmes, and there are professional qualifications available for those looking to start a career in agency. Agency work is often exciting and dynamic, and offers an introduction to all parts of the marine industry.
How big is this sector? With thousands of ports of varying sizes in the world, Agents have a wide field to cover. However, competition between existing Agents is fierce and rates of commission are under intense pressure. For the most part though, Agents that offer a quality service at a competitive price will succeed.