What is the difference between a vessel agent and carrier agent? What exactly do the vessel agents do? These are some of the questions you will get answered here – together with all the information you could possibly need about the vessel agents.

First things first.

Maybe, you are – like I was – wondering if a vessel agent is the same as a shipping agent. Logic dictates that vessel is another word for ship, so it should be. And luckily, it is. So, feel free to use the term vessel agent interchangeably with shipping agent! For the sake of simplicity, we will in this blog stick to writing vessel agent.

Now, that we have that settled let’s talk about what their work actually entails.

If you already know what they do but aren’t sure what the difference between a vessel agent and a carrier agent is then jump down to that part now!

All the practicalities

A vessel agent works on behalf of a shipowner. The agent is responsible for all the practical and essential parts of shipping life on a ship. Below you can see some of the things they are in charge of 👇

  • Vessel agents work as representatives of the owner of the ship together with a local expert at each of the ports they berth at.
  • The agents are trusted with making sure that the crew gets local currency, get their mail, and have to refill food and water on the ship.
  • They have to make sure to get repairmen onto the ship if the ship needs extensive reparation.

The vessel agents also liaise with the port authorities so they can..

  • ensure that the vessel berths on time.
  • make sure that the discharging and loading of cargo is completed within the set time frame.

In other words, the agent is like an octopus – having many arms, all of them involved in different on-goings on a ship. And we’re not quite done yet.

Vessel agent and coordination

Shipping lines know that business operations can be tight. And for them to be able to offer low prices and a broad palette of services will give them a head start. With shipping alliances, shipping lines can do just that.

Big shipping lines such as Maersk, MSC, COSCO, and CMA CGM are all part of different shipping alliances. Alliances, that give them the opportunity to offer services globally.

That also means that one carrier can provide containers that might be shipped on a vessel operated by another shipping line.

This is where the vessel agents come in.

Because they are also in charge of coordinating the details of the cargo, weights, size, and types of cargo, that the partner shipping line has scheduled. With that information, they can finalize the stowage plan and make sure that the operation goes as smoothly as possible.

Difference between vessel agent and carrier agent

Simply put these are the main differences between a vessel agent and a carrier agent:

A carrier agent deals with all the commercial activities in and around the shipping line. They oversee the booking of containers and vessel slots, make sure the bill of lading is issued, and so on.

In contrast, a vessel agent controls and handles the operations on a ship.

In some cases, a vessel agent and a carrier agent is one and the same. But in many cases, they are not.

Going to Singapore

Let’s use Maersk’s shipping alliance with MSC as an example of just how it works.

A vessel is operated by Maersk, and MSC has containers loaded on the ship. Let’s say that the vessel makes a port call in Singapore. In this case, Maersk’s agent in Singapore will act as both the vessel agent and the carrier agent. On the other hand, MSC’s agent in Singapore will only be a carrier agent. Simply because MSC is not handling the operations of the ship, despite the fact that the vessel is operating under the shipping alliance.

A carrier will always have an agent attached to the containers that are shipped around the world. Also, when the containers are on a ship operated by another shipping line. That, so they can ensure the smooth operation and the arrival of the containers at the end destination.

In the event – as described above – where the vessel agent works as both vessel and carrier agent, will either the commercial division or the operational division of the line take care of one of the responsibilities. That way, they make sure that there is time to do both parts of the agent’s job.

Don’t be confused

Dear child has many names. In this case, a vessel agent can be called either that or a shipping agent. It is, however, more difficult to use vessel agent interchangeably with the term carrier agent.

Sometimes, a vessel agent is also a carrier agent. But that is not always the case. Keep in mind, that the global shipping alliances mean that carriers can be shipping containers on vessels operated by another shipping line. But as all shipping lines still issue their own bills of lading for the cargo they manage, the liability of potential damages still lays by the individual shipping lines.

Want to know more about the biggest global shipping alliances and why they are so popular?

Click on the banner below and read our blog post about some of the biggest shipping alliances in the world.