A vessel agent (or ship's agent) is a local expert who acts as a representative of ship owners, managers, or charterers and carries out all the necessary duties and obligations required by the vessel's owner or crew.
What Are a Vessel Agent's Primary Responsibilities?
As you can imagine, ship owners, managers, and charterers cannot be present every time their ship docks at port. Still, a vessel in port is an incredibly important and costly aspect of the ocean transport process. That's where the vessel agent comes in. The agent makes sure in-port arrangements are made and completed efficiently and effectively. It's the ship's agents' job to ensure that the vessel completes her operations promptly and that no delays are incurred, resulting in a costly exercise for the owners or charterers. These responsibilities can include taking care of the crew by bringing them essential supplies such as food and water, exchanging local currency, bringing mail, and escorting maintenance specialists on board if needed. Shipping agents make sure crew transfers happen seamlessly and ensure customs documentation and waste declarations are arranged with port authorities. They also provide the owner or charterer with real-time updates and reports for the port call or cargo operation.
A good vessel agent must adapt to the constant changes that happen within this particular part of the shipping process. A great agent can pivot from executing a well-planned operation to doing something completely unexpected. Not only that, but they must also continue to be flexible as they work out multiple, inevitable changes in variables of the operations performed. No port call will be the same as the others, with each offering different challenges and specificities.
The ability to document activities well is a vital part of being a great ship's agent. Since the agent is the "go-to" person for any situation that may arise, they continuously deal with proper documentation systems from immigration to port authorities, to ordering provisions for the crew.
It is pertinent that shipping agents have high-level interpersonal skills and enjoy engaging with other people and cultures. These agents interact with all different nationalities during their career-span. A great vessel agent will learn different logistics and project management techniques from the crews and owners they encounter, enabling them to create tailor-made experiences in the future. A ship's agent has the unique ability to provide more or better services than what the crew and owners anticipate.
Finally, a good agent must love the maritime industry. Part of this job is understanding that a vessel agent operates on a 24 hours a day, seven days a week availability schedule. While being a shipping agent is not a typical "9 to 5" job and may be grueling at times, it can also be highly fulfilling and rewarding. Shipping agents must be passionate about this industry to thrive in this highly-pressurized atmosphere.
"I enjoy being a shipping agent because I get a bird's eye view of the entire shipping industry and its processes. Having this viewpoint makes me have a greater appreciation of the role I fill and how it contributes to our international shipping community."Brian Westad, Operations Manager West Coast GMC
"What made me fall in love with shipping and maritime, in general, was the pure fact that of bringing a project together and executing it without fail. Of course, the stress and the overwhelming amount of phone calls are not for the faint-hearted, but I find complete satisfaction and a sense of pride when completing projects, especially the long project port stays."Gary Schlechter, Project Manager GMC South Africa
"I love all the interesting cargo and different types of vessels I get to see on a daily basis. I also get the unique opportunity to meet people from all over the world, which is amazing."Dane Peden, Operations Manager U.S. Gulf