Buoyant liner business propels Inchcape
Inchcape’s liner business has had major wins in the past 12 months despite the pandemic, in part through what it calls building trust through transparency
AS third-party liner agents, Inchcape services 38 liner principals in 35 countries, while on the containership husbandry side it provides skilled support for some 30,000 port calls worldwide. Its customer base includes many major lines.
Hamish White, Inchcape’s liner figurehead since 2017, says there are multiple factors driving growth in the group's client base.
For example, if the country or port is new for the line and it doesn’t have a local presence, “with our local knowledge and experience we can provide fast strategic market insight to build their service strategy. By that I mean trade statistics, an overview of relevant commodities and commodity flows, freight-rate data, and analysis,” says Mr White.
Another reason lines approach Inchcape is to tap its local knowledge in countries considered challenging. “Papua New Guinea springs to mind, which is rich in shipping but at the same time can be quite tricky. It was my first overseas posting for Inchcape and at that time we represented Maersk as third-party agent. It was a challenging but hugely rewarding experience. We’ve also operated strong and efficient third-party liner agencies in countries such as Pakistan and Iraq,” he says.
Lines also seek out Inchcape to handle non-strategic administrative functions in a given location, typically because their business isn’t large enough to warrant setting up their own office to handle back-office documentation, bills of lading, container control and suchlike. “Lines generally prefer to do this in-house, but various locations around the world don’t want the cost of employing staff, in which case it’s more cost-effective to outsource to (us) because of our economies of scale," says Mr White.
“Despite the ravages of the pandemic it is great that our customers entrust us to handle their vessels and crew” — Hamish White, Global Sector Head: Liner at Inchcape Shipping Services
Inchcape helps the principal to eliminate risk, seize commercial opportunities and make the right decisions. “We build strong management and teams on the ground, from sales, customer service to operations and finance, and act for the principal as, in effect, their own branch. Our ability to expand teu market share and revenue for the line is ultimately what we’re scored on.”
On the liner husbandry front, Inchcape has seen significant growth in Africa, Australia, India, Malaysia, Panama, Singapore, Taiwan, the United Arab Emirates and the US. “Despite the ravages of the pandemic it is great that our customers entrust us to handle their vessels and crew. We are acutely aware of care for seafarers during this time and we have some fantastic operational staff around the world handing items such as crew change and medical care as efficiently as we possibly can, despite the restrictions caused by the pandemic,” says Mr White.
Recent third-party liner agency business includes new wins in Australia, the Bahamas, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, New Zealand, Russia, Tanzania and the US. Inchcape’s NVOCC business in its MESSA region also continues to grow, with pleasing developments in East Africa, Egypt, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Mr White cautions that although container shipping is currently enjoying a 10-year high, with very strong freight rates, in the bad times lines often make only marginal profits, break even or even incur losses. “Inchcape’s competitive advantage during down cycles is our ability to save customers money and spot areas which perhaps could be improved. We stick at it through thick and thin,” he says.
Within the next few years, Mr White expects to secure new agency business in Africa, the Americas, Bangladesh, Europe, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. “We aim to grow from 2.5m teu per year now to 3m teu and above. We also want to grow our husbandry numbers to 40,000 port calls globally in the next two to three years,” he says.
Inchcape’s focus is on nurturing long-term relationships with principals based on first-class communication. Mr White says: “Our top priority as a global marine services provider is corporate compliance. We work hard to build trust through transparency, and customers can rest assured we operate with an open book. That really sums up what’s required in this industry.”
Inchcape Shipping Services are global providers of port agency and maritime services, with offices in 60 countries. The company has been going for 174 years and has a team of 2,500 professional and committed staff.