Employment of Agents

It is important to remember that the principal is the shipowner and that the ship manager is his agent.  This may sometimes be difficult for the outside world to see when the only contact the agent or broker has is with the ship manager.  It is not unusual for shipowners with several vessels to register each ship in an individual owning company, possibly even in different flag states.  This is for good accounting or legal reasons and should not necessarily be cause for concern.  The ship manager, who may be part of that shipowner’s organisation or may be independent, will look after the whole fleet. Unfortunately but rarely, there are occasions when this can be a problem. The ship manager can plead his agency relationship with the owner to avoid responsibility for the owner’s debts, when he is actually part of the same business. The test must always be whether or not the management company has a good reputation and a track record in the market place. Where ever a ship goes in the world it will need an agent at every port of call to make the necessary arrangements for it to enter and leave that port; to have it discharged or loaded with cargo; to comply with the local regulations and to pay for services rendered and taxes or dues payable.  In theory it is possible for the master to handle all such matters but except for some small coasters trading on regular routes, it is not practical. It is usually the ship manager’s responsibility to choose and appoint the port agent.  However it has to be recognised that many Charterers will wish to nominate the agent to be used by the owner in respect of their business.  The reason for such nomination may be that the charterer wants an agent who has particular experience of the cargo or terminal used or to protect its commercial confidentiality.  Whatever the reason it is a negotiated clause in the charter but it must be remembered that the ‘nominated’ agent is the agent of the ship, not the charterer.