Shipping merchants - key players at the harbour

Michel Rothgaenger
Michel Rothgaenger

Germany is a seafaring nation. With more than 100 million tons of goods passing through German waterways every year, good shipping merchants are in demand. German shipowners own about one third of the container ships worldwide. Of the approximately 3200 merchant ships, most are modern container ships.

Maritime transport as an economic sector

The most profitable transport route is water, with merchant ships covering most of the world's trade in goods. About 98 percent of the intercontinental and 62 percent of the intra-European exchange of goods is carried out by shipping. Thanks to the economic transport infrastructure, maritime trade can be so profitable because large quantities of goods can be transported over long distances in a relatively short time with few personnel and low energy consumption. Every day, ships from all over the world arrive at the port of Hamburg with a wide variety of goods. Seen from the outside, the colorful hustle and bustle look like a large beehive, everyone knows what they have to do and when. What exactly is the role of the Shipping merchant?

Organization is everything

Without good organization, planning and control of the transport of goods, chaos would break out in the port. One must adhere to the fixed timetables of the ports. It starts with the acquisition of transport orders: can the goods be transported on our own ships or does freight space have to be bought on other ships? Empty runs or ships that are not fully loaded should be avoided. The aim is to always load the cargo space as well as possible and to prevent empty runs. Here Shipping merchants advise their customers as to what is the most economical transport option in terms of freight costs, insurance or customs regulations. Furthermore, they provide information about transport possibilities in combined transport. In order for a ship to be cleared into a port in the first place, a berth must be ordered and the ship must be registered.

Control is better

Monitoring the unloading or loading of the consignments is just as much a part of this, as checking/processing the freight documents and checking the consignments for intactness and completeness. These checks ensure that the most varied goods arrive where they are supposed to.

In Hamburg they say goodbye

Before a ship can leave port again, the supply of fuel is organized by the shipping merchants. They prepare a port cost statement, settle the accounts with the clients and check incoming invoices. They also arrange for payments to the respective authorities.

A versatile place of work

Shipping merchants find employment with liner shipping companies and liner agents as well as with ship or freight brokers and in seaport forwarding. The workplace can be in offices on land, but it is also possible to work in the port or on board ships.

Tramp shipping or liner shipping?

The requirements for shipping merchants are identical, but the main difference is that in liner shipping, regular sea transport is planned. In tramp shipping, the focus is on occasional trips outside the regular schedule. There is less customer contact here, so other activities are required. Everything that cannot be transported in a regular container must be planned project-based. Routes and transport options must be planned meticulously because these are often goods that are difficult to transport. An ocean-going vessel is then selected and arranged. The English language is essential to communicate in this line of work. The calculation of costs, the development of market-oriented service offers and the analysis of transport and cargo markets are part of the daily work.

Seafaring now and again

Thousands of years ago, seafaring was already used by man as a means of transport. The development from simple watercraft to today's container ships is impressive. On 26 April 1965, the first container went on voyage. The converted tanker of the American transport company Malcom McLean was called "Ideal X". 56 tin boxes were shipped from Pennsylvania to Houston. Ten years later the container age began in Bremen. Hamburg followed one year later. In 1968, a global agreement was reached on the 20-foot standard size for containers. In the meantime, containers are also available in double length, as 40-foot containers. Today, shipping has been optimized to such an extent that it is possible to ship an entire factory from Germany to China. In order for these processes to be carried out smoothly and without incidents, great talent in logistical thinking is required.

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