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Adding value to port agency in the digital age

Experience and digitalisation combine to maintain relevancy for the port agent

OVER recent months, much has been written about the demise of the port agent in the digital age, by people who have never been the bridge between ship and port and who have little idea of the true role of port agents.

Inchcape Shipping Services (Inchcape) has a long history in port agency and is a sector leader in the digital age with latest additions to its World of Ports (WoP) digital portal. After 10 years online, the specialist tool, originally designed for one of its major clients, has evolved into a platform that should prove as essential to owners, operators, charterers or anyone else involved in maritime transportation as the services of port agents have been, through time.

Information about 36,000 berths, 16,000 terminals and 4,600 ports allows users to determine if their intended vessel will be able to be accommodated at the chosen port, but that is just the start. Inchcape has used its long experience in the field to bring together the type of information and market intelligence that ship operators and charterers generally request from port agents, to produce an ever-expanding number of modules and functionalities to handle requests.

The system is also used internally by Inchcape to track customers’ vessels, create alerts on vessels arriving, automatically send out pre-arrival documents, and keep track of port congestion and turnaround times at terminal and berth.

Aravind Prasath, Head of Systems, World of Ports, says some information, such as port performance detailing average turnaround times, port restrictions — e.g. on scrubber use — or more mundane matters such as environmental protection requirements, is already active in WoP, and new modules are being incorporated.

The first of these is the Port Cost Estimator (PCE) module. Ship operators, or their brokers, need to evaluate every potential offer of employment by performing a voyage estimate. Usually this is done using an app that performs the calculations for time and distance along with likely cargo quantity, but it is the variables such as port call costs and turnround times that are needed for an accurate assessment.

That would normally involve contacting agents at the ports and asking them for a proforma disbursement account, a tedious and time-consuming exercise.

Inchcape, by contrast, has used its knowledge of port tariffs and charging basis (loa, gt, dwt etc.) to develop the PCE module, which can be activated directly by the user by logging on to WoP. The resulting estimate, accurate within port agency norms, can be influenced by factors such as arrival outside of hours, extended port stays and the like. While the estimate can be used immediately for voyage estimating, another click of the mouse will send a request to the Inchcape Port Office for more detailed information.

Another new tool allows the user to create customised fleet lists and zones which can be used to trigger alerts. The lists are not limited to a user’s own ships and can be selected based on different parameters and for different reasons.

For example, a charterer seeking preferred vessels for particular cargoes may want to know which geared handymaxes are within a specified area at a specific time; inputting vessel type/size will identify all suitable vessels expected within the period. Or a ship operator wanting to know what vessels might be in a position to compete for a fixture which the operator wants to pursue; that information can be gleaned from competing tools but usually with much more difficulty because, although the raw AIS data is available for individual vessels, it requires considerable effort to collate the data.

To make the alert function more useful, users can create zones of any size on a world map and request alerts when vessels enter those zones, or identify ships within them heading for specific ports. These alerts are delivered by email to the user as they occur.

The latest modules are by no means the end of the journey as more modules are in development for the future. For more information please contact: sales@worldofports.com.

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