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Shipping and self-regulation

Published: 
Thursday, September 7, 2017

T&T’s Maritime Industry is largely geared towards services.

Furthermore, given the structure of the industry, ship agents, freight forwarders, and brokers have been and remain major suppliers of shipping services, and can perhaps be considered the dominant providers of shipping services.

This article will therefore focus on regulation moreso self-regulation, with a focus on these intermediaries.

Since 2004, there has been discussion within the government to develop a regulatory body which would have responsibility for economic, developmental, regulatory and environmental issues concerning maritime activity in T&T. This has not occurred. In the meantime, it has become increasingly pertinent for the affected industry stakeholders to be regulated in an attempt to maintain a reputable industry on the world stage and remain competitive within the region.

Background

The Shipping Association (SATT) was established to provide a central organisation for professionals within the maritime industry. The SATT’s remit encompasses establishing and upholding a standard of conduct and best practice.

The SATT has advocated over the years for more regulation in the maritime industry or, at the very least, a means to readily identify which brokers, agents and freight forwarders, maintain high standard in their operations, financial controls, and commitment to education and training.

The SATT believes that it in order to accomplish the foregoing, it is incumbent upon us to become self-regulating.

In lieu of a maritime regulatory body and umbrella legislation, it has become abundantly clear that the stakeholders have to impose self-regulation.

As a first phase, the SATT is resolutely in support of the establishment of a quality standard for ship agents, freight forwarders and brokers. The SATT has studied The Federation of National Associations of Ship Brokers and Agents; (FONASBA). FONASBA is a pre-eminent international Association, which provides a united voice for the world’s ship agents and ship brokers.

Founded in 1969, the organisation promotes fair and equitable practices and ensures that the needs of its members are understood at international, regional and individual national level across the maritime industry.

The association maintains a close watch on all developments of interest and concern to the ship broking and ship agency professions, and takes appropriate action to ensure that those interests are protected.

Impetus

There exists no international regulation governing who can and cannot be a ship agent. The same applies locally. The fact is: anyone—irrespective of their knowledge, experience, financial standing or background—can set up as an agent.

Ironically, shipowners entrust their multi-million dollar vessels, carrying cargoes that are sometimes worth more than the vessel itself, in the hands of an agent whose only assets may be their mobile phone and laptop. It is also noteworthy that an owner/ principal may send thousands of dollars to an agent to conduct business with local authorities with little or no guarantee that the funds will be used for the intended purposes.

To mitigate these risks, FONASBA established a Quality Standard for Ship Agents and Brokers, which was introduced in 2007. The standard was designed to assist shipowners and operators to identify those agents and brokers who are well-funded and demonstrate a tangible commitment to quality.

By providing the maritime industry with a robust, enforceable and practical Quality Standard, FONASBA has helped ensure that the activities, responsibilities and liabilities of agents and brokers is subject to scrutiny. It is the SATT’s intention to ensure a similar regime is adopted in T&T.

The lack of regulation within the industry and rise of globalisation has also allowed international shipping lines to set up their own local agencies, displacing local ship agents, while not contributing to the building and expansion of the fraternity and local industry. This makes the necessity to repatriate (dwindling) foreign exchange that much more poignant.

Local ship agents are also required to repatriate funds to their foreign principals but this is accompanied by significant local investment. These entrants also make high demands on the government, insisting on enhanced port infrastructure and the like, (as they should), all the while making no commitment to the development of the local shipping industry.

Diversification

In an attempt to diversify our economy, the government has identified the maritime industry as a major potential for growth and in turn signed onto a number of international conventions set forth by international agencies like the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the European Commission (EU), the World Customs Organisation (WCO), World Trade Organisation (WT), and the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Given the ever-increasing regulatory environment for the international shipping industry, there is a clear need for stakeholders to self-regulate. We believe that regulation; including self-regulation, would greatly support compliance with a number of critical requirements in these conventions.

The Shipping Associating of Trinidad & Tobago is well poised to work in conjunction with a maritime authority to ensure that standards and best practices are adhered to

Standards

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), it is necessary that shipping associations uphold a high standard of business ethics and professional conduct among shipping agents ; that we promote a high level of professional education and experience essential to provide efficient services; encourage operation of financially sound and stable shipping agents; contribute to combating maritime fraud by ensuring improved service by better qualified shipping agents; and provide guidelines for national authorities and other professional associations in establishing and maintaining a sound shipping agency system

The Shipping Associating of Trinidad & Tobago