Ship agent’s duties are the same whether it is carried out by an independent ship agent or by agency department within the liner operator’s company. Liner Ship Agency work is labor intensive. In addition to employing a larger number of people, liner ship agency work involves a wide variety of skills and different levels of skill. Liner Ship Agency, there are some tasks which are purely clerical in nature whilst others require an ability to plan professionally within the legal aspects of the contract of carriage. Different skills that the liner trades demand:
Dealing with the Ship: Much of the liner ship agent’s duties are similar to tramps and tankers. Liner ship agents deal with Customs, Health and Port Authorities on behalf of the ship. Liner ship agents look after the requirements of the ship and crew. Major difference between liner ship agent and tramp ship agent is that with a chartered tramp ship it is probable that the cargo is all one commodity and the loading/discharging arrangements will have been made at the time of the charter. On the other hand, in liner trade, there can well be many hundreds of different consignments so that discussions with stevedores have to start well before the ship arrives. Arranging the stowage to ensure safe trim as well as having the right cargo accessible at each discharging port is obviously the responsibility of the ship’s command but the liner ship agent has to ensure that all the information about what cargo has been booked is provided as early as possible. Long before the liner ship arrives, a suitable berth has to be arranged; if the liner ship is carrying break-bulk cargo the berth has to be one with a suitable transit shed, in which to accommodate the imported cargo discharged from the ship and to assemble the cargo that will be loaded on board the ship for export. If the liner ship is a container carrier, she will have to go to a proper container berth and much of the stowage decisions will have to be made with computer program before the ship arrives.
Dealing with Outward Cargo – Marketing: Liner ships adhere to a schedule but, hundreds of different shippers and their forwarding agents have to be made aware of what ship is due when and for which destinations. Liner ship agents do some form of advertising plus active salesmanship. Marketing of space in liner ship is almost like selling an actual physical product. In liner shipping, competition is usually fierce so that a sales team (canvassers) have to be marketing all the time. Generally, tramp ship agents only deal with one principal in the same trade. On the other hand, in liner shipping, with an increase in the number of lines operating in some of the major trades it is becoming difficult for principals to find a good quality liner ship agent who is not already committed in certain of these trades. Thus, question of conflict of interest is a serious consideration for a principal when choosing an agent. Liner ship agent’s selling function does not end with the work of the canvassers because the actual bookings are normally made with the liner ship agent’s staff in the offices. Such employees in the office have to be just as sales-orientated as canvassers are on the road. Canvassers’ (sales-representative’s) efforts would all be for nothing if shippers were greeted by an unhelpful attitude of office employees when a shipper wanted to book some space. Liner shipping company’s freight department personnel not only take the bookings but have to be ready with information as to when and where the cargo should be delivered to the port as well as dealing with any other queries the shipper may have. Most importantly liner shipping company’s freight department personnel should be able to calculate and quote the freight costs to each potential shipper. Furthermore, liner freight tariffs are notoriously complicated. Besides, liner shipping company’s freight department personnel must be extremely cautious when dealing with dangerous cargo. According to shipping law, it is the shipper’s responsibility to declare dangerous goods such as explosive, inflammable, toxic cargoes but no law book protects a ship from catching fire or crew from being poisoned. Liner ship agency personnel need to be able to recognize potentially hazardous cargo and cross check any suspect material with the shippers and the assistance of the IMO’s Code (International Maritime Dangerous Goods or IMDG Code ) on the carriage of dangerous goods.