Who is?

Hi. I am a shipping company director, transport academic, author, family man and all round nice guy. I have worked as shipbroker, shipowner, freight trader and bulk charterer, in senior positions, with some of the largest and most disrespected (joke) companies in the world. Ask my advice on all things shipping and you will receive my blunt and always honest answer. Hang around to learn more about chartering and ship broker salaries, chartering and ship broker jobs, chartering and shipbroker recruitment agencies, cheap freight, maritime education, chartering and ship broker qualifications, become a ship broker, tips on how to be a successful bulk shipping executive, philosophy, Zen and the art of shipbroking, and much more. Yours The Virtual Shipbroker (recently proclaimed the guru of shipbroking) Copyright © 2009-17 by Virtualshipbroker

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Shipowning - a wonderful business

Ok time to discuss some of the wonderful aspects of working (being) a shipowner and freight trader.

Having effective commercial control of an asset worth up to usd 200 million dollars is an intoxicating idea. Having control of 50 of these animals is even more thrilling.

A shipbroker working as a shipowner is the decisison maker. Sure you will have management to run things past but at the end of the day the decisison of where to send these goliaths of the sea, is made by the inhouse shipbroker.

Think about this for a minute

- The vessel is probably worth millions of dollars and has taken 3-4 years for a shipyard to build.
- Some vessel are six stories high and the lenth of 3 football pitches
- Your commercial decisions directly effect the life of bewteen 20 -30 people onboard the ship. The master and his crew are your effective servants for the passgae of each voyage, and YOU will decide where they spend Christmans, birthdays and religious holidays.
- The cargo you have agreed to carry (by way of negotiation) is also worth millions of dollars. Once the Bill of Lading has been signed, the shipowner takes effective control of the precious cargo. You need to make sure the cargo arrives safely. Big responsibility!
- Grains feed nations, coal, iron ore and oil power nations, the list goes on.

As a shipowner it is sometime easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. Cargoes and terms are merely words on a recap of the deal done. The master and his crew are only given cursory thought when a crew list is passed down the line to the charterer. The vessel itself may never have eyes set on it by management and the broker making its every decision.

When I was a shipowner (freight trader), on occassion I would sit back and consider the amazing system that was at work for which I was lucky to be an important part. Great job if you can get it!

Yours
VS

Monday, July 27, 2009

Whats happening up top..

In the previous post I duscussed the fact that quite a few ship operators have gone bankrupt over recent months.

People will blame market conditions and argue that the GFC was not foreseen. But in reality this is far from the truth.

Wall St type mentalities are alive and well in shipping and those with the knowledge and the connections know how to play the game. For many a reckless shipping entrepreneur out there they realise the game is about 'access to other people money'. In boom times they get this access and in droves. They then surround themselves with middle management and strcutures that resemble a working business entity BUT then all they do is bet the money on BLACK.

Let me explain a bit better. When you have a ship full of other people money, and if you structure your company in the right way, you have very little to lose and a huge amount to gain.

Betting on black may mean betting on a market rise and hence going long on ships. Or you might bet the other way. if you win you are set for life and if you lose then you wind the operation up, go surfing and re-emerge with a new brand name. Not only are they able to re-emerge but senior execs have also orchestrated massive payouts from the sinking entity that they once controlled.

Over the last few months we have seen some senior shipowning execs re-emerge in this light - seeminlgy unscathed by previous poor and reckless business decisions - only to find new backers willing to fund the whole 'game' once again.

Dont worry - shipping companies are by and large fine upstanding members of the international community and have people at the helm making reasonable, cautious and long term decisisons based on more than next years bonus pools.

Yours
VS

Sunday, July 26, 2009

"Who you calling a shipowner!"

Here is the thing about shipowning. The term can mean many things.

For a charterer, the term shipowner, means the charterers counterparty in any freight transaction. So this is the company who provides a ship at the right place at the right time.

Many charterers who are not that ofay with the world of shipping, presume that anyone who provides a ship must be a pure 'shipowner' and thus have easily caluclated fixed costs and required rates of return.

That is why in high freight markets you hear charterers crying foul of the filthy greedy shipowners.

Unfortunately for the unitiniated this only tells part of the story. Yes in high markets some shipowners (pure ones, for example) will benefit from raised asset prices and increased freight rates. But more often than not they will be facing the same market conditions as the charterer.

Ask yourself the question - How then have we seen in such a freight bubble some 'shipowners' go bankrupt?

Answer - because most shipowners are not 'shipowners'. They are 'ship operators' and 'freight traders'. These guys dont own ships, they lease ships for long periods and then re-lease the ships at shorter period trying to make a margin.

If the market rises or falls dramatically and they have the wrong mix of ships and cargoes then they can go bankrupt.

So unlike pure shipowners who are interested in long term returns and growth, these guys are mainly concerned with short and medium time frames. Cashflow becomes very important.

Ship operators / Freight traders (different terms for the same type of firm) need to be experts, and within the wider market are often the smartest guys on the blcok - because they have to be!
No resting on laurels here, they need to know the market at all times and they need to be great negotiators. They will sniff out a victim accross a dodgy vindaloo any day of the week.

This is where a good broker adds value. Many charterers THINK they are saving money by cutting out brokerage and attempting to deal direct with shipowners, freight traders and the like. If the charterers are not shipping experts then this is a very bad move indeed.

Any good freight trader, after being approached direct by some unsuspecting cargo player, will automatically raise freight rates, and negotiate favourable terms, if they feel they can get away with it.

Sounds a bit complicated - shoot with any questions if you have them

Yours
VS

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The mysterious world of bulk shipowning

So here is the first of a new series dedictaed to the world of bulk carrier shipowning. Beneath the docile, lumbering appearance of a super huge cargo carriers is a world of surprising color and complexity.

Lets start with calrifying some major concepts.

Its easy to imagine that as a cargo owner that needs his/her goods to be moved, there is out there a series of pure shipowners ready to offer you a service. By pure shipowners i mean someone who has bought a ship and now manages the ship in every transaction that takes place.

Truth: As a cargo owner (charterer) the likelyhood that you will have as your direct counterparty the pure shipowner is very small.

Here is a more likely scenario....

- Shipyard received an order to build a particlar ship.
- Shipyard agrees to build said ship for USD 100 million dollars
- For delivery in 3 years
- The buyer (company A) at this moment is the potential shipowner
- The buyer could be any large organisation with access to funds and an interest in shipping.
- Once the ship is finished and delivered this buyer is now a shipowner.

However

- 1 year prior to delivery, the buyer (company A) decides he has no interest in managing and operating the ship. Campany A also recognises that the book price of the ship (as yet undelivered) has risen quite alot (120 million) due to demand from china and india for raw Materials

- Company A sells the ship to Company B for 120 million - one year prior to the vessel being delivered.

- Company B is happy to pay the price because they are a hedge fund who would like to have some hard assets that will generate an income

- Company B however does not have any interest in operating the ship. they are a hedge fund and have no shipping expertise.

- Company B then enters into a 10 year lease relationship with Company C and thus locks in charter income for ten years.

- Company C are a large shipmangement company who have 60 other ships on their books with similar lease relationships. Company C do not like investing millions in purchasing ships outright and prefer to enter into these long term lease arrangement instead.

- Company C insists on a 'purchase option' on completion of 10 years service at an agreed price. Company B is happy to agree as they can now lock in their entire exposure.

- 3 years gone and vessel finally delivers - Grand opening and there is a cast of thousands to break the bottle of champaign on the hull of 'MV make me millions'.

- For the vessels first employment Company C takes the opportunity of a high long period market to charter the vessel to Company D for 3 years. Company C locks in a nice 3 year profit and Company D now has a nice ship to complement thier burgeoining fleet...

- and it goes on and on and on....

As a charterer there are occassions when you think you give your cargo to a 'shipowner' and infact you are merely giving the cargo to a 'disponent shipowner' and the real (head) owner is a long way down the chain. This is both necessary (for the wider industry) but problematic for charterers as the longer the chain is, getting important documentational, legal and operational matters sorted in a timely manner becomes increasingly hard.

Hopefully after reading the above a few times the world of shipowning, and its structures, start to make a little more sense.

I will elaborate and open a few more ideas over the coming weeks. If anyone has any specific question feel free to drop me an email.

Yours
VS

Momentum!

I just wanted to extend my encouragement to a number of you who have been emailing me privately regarding taking action on your shipchartering dreams.

Great stuff!

A few of you have been lucky enough to find employment with shipbroking firms in areas such as Sale and purchase, tankers and cargo chartering. A number of you have also started companies and websites. Some are leveraging of the contacts and knowledge of friends and family.

Well done and drop me a line now and then to let me know how you are going.

For anyone who send me an email all correspondence is kept strictly private and confidential.

Yours
VS

Monday, July 20, 2009

Shipping broker - the many hats

Hi All - Back from a short break.

In both the blog and the books I discuss the fact that shipbroking is the 'industry label' that can be attached to the wider proffession of 'ship chartering professionals'.

So apart from shipbrokers, we also have tramp ship owners, bulk ship charterers and freight traders. The core set of skills are interchangeable.

So to those of you who have sent me private emails wondering if my books (inside shipbroking, Fast track and the List) are suitable material for those wanting to be shipowners and charterers - the answer is a definite YES.

With this idea in mind I will spend the next few weeks writing more about shipowning, cargo chartering and freight trading. The vocations are in many ways more interesting than pure shipbroking - pros and cons for both.

I also wanted to say a quick word about the terrorist bombings in Jakarta Indonesia. There are a number of bulk shipping related fiorms situated within a short distance of both the Marriott and the Ritz Carlton. Both Hotels are a regular choice for the international trading and shipping communities.

We send our thoughts to those, who without fault of their own, found themselves involved in this tragedy. Lets hope for safer times ahead.

Yours
VS

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How to stop shipowners and charterers going direct!

Especially after you are the poor unsuspecting soul who has made the introduction!

This great question was posed by MK a few days back and I promised to answer this on a new post.

Harsh truth - this happens everyday and is an extremely annoying part fo a brokers life. Having said that (yes there is always a BUT) a 'Fixing Machine' will avoid this scenario more often then your Mr Average broker.

Why is it inevitable? Few reasons

1) Power. Some principals love this game. No greater show of power than to cut out the broker and let them know about it.
2) Bad service. Sometime the broker has themselves to blame
3) Ease. The principals may become friends, start socialising and sending eachother business related emails.
4) Principal strategy. Quite legitimatley some clients want to keep deals secret and the best way to do this is to not quote brokers.
5) Principal policy. Some large charterers have a policy that for COA's all deals should be done direct.
6) Lack of foresight and appreciatuion on behalf of the principal. In line with the policy principal above many clients fail to adequately 'consider' the ramifications of going direct.
- ie annoying some pwerful brokers
- failing to see that in many cases the brokers actually add value (alot more than the price of commissions)
- Failure to understand that local broking communities need the ongoing support of local principals to keep the industry alive and competative.

Ok - So how to try and stop principals going direct...

In no particlar order

1) Dont introduce them!
2) Always be there together in any meetings
3) Work for a shipbroking company that has power. They will be less likely to cut you out if they are scared of ramifications
4) target clients that arent power hungry sociopaths. In not kidding. Long term succes depends on solid long term relationships. Remember what you were told at school - pick your friends carefully. Many brokers align themselves with the wrong people and it can turn ugly!
5) Spend time actively thinking about how to build loyalty into your relationships. Become friends and condition clients in everyday conversations that going direct is not the right thing

and the number 1 way

6) be good at you job. Always be looking to add value and give them no reason to cut you out of the deal!

Mk - I hope this helps

Happy multiple fixining!

Yours
VS

Monday, July 13, 2009

For shipbrokers out there!

I have to say, after going through my 700 th email of the day - if you are a shipbroker please do the industry a favour stop sending cargo orders without customer account names and without full disclosure regarding commissions.

If you are wondering why no one is replying to your ciculations this is more than likely the reason. Plus you are clogging up the email sytems of legitimate brokers and principals.

The first thing a shipowner looks for from a brokers quote is legitimacy. If all your quotes seem to be shredded in secrecy then the only reasonable explanation is that 1. you are not direct and 2. you do not have authority from the charterer to be quoting these cargoes.

The only reason a broker should/might quote a cargo without a clients name is if the broker is exclsuive for that cargo / account, and therefore is trying to protect himself/cleint from attack from other brokers. This exclusivity also needs to be pointed out in the email.

Happy Fixing

Yours
(a frustrated) VS

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Daily BDI updates

Busy day. New initiative on the right hand side column there is now a link to the Wikinvest shipping market page. Take a look to see what is happening in real time to the bulk shipping markets.

Yours
VS

Shipbroker / chartering job

Good news - it seems my call to managers of shipping companies out there has not gone totally unnoticed

I have a possible position for either an experienced chartering person or a trainee. The company is in North America but the person can work from anywhere.

So that it is sure - I am NOT taking any commissions here and I have no interest in the company involved - I will merely pass on the information. The job information will be sent to all people on my mailing list (ie those who have bought one of my books).

For those on the mailing list keep an eye on your email shorty.

And many thanks to this shipping company manager for making this opportunity available to readers of this site.

Best regards
Virtual Shipbroker

Monday, July 6, 2009

Alain De Botton and the Virtual Shipbroker

" How ignorant most of us are by contrast, surrounded by machines and processes of which we have only the loosest grasp, we know nothing of gantry cranes and iron-ore bulk carriers, who register the economy only as a set of numbers, who have avoided close study of switch gears and wheat storage and spare ourselves closer aquantance with the manufacturing protocols for tensile steel cable. How much we might learn from the men at the end of a pier on the edges of London. They Inspired this book."

Alain De Botton (philosopher) 'The pleasures and sorrows of work' page 29 - Penguin Books 2009

++

Here is a great story - keep reading!

Only last week I read this book, 'the Pleasures and Sorrows of Work' from the world renowned London based popular philosopher / essayist Alain De Botton. Some weeks before I had downloaded onto my ipod one of his other books 'the art of travel'. What jumps out in both pieces of writing is the authors more than apparent interest in the mysteries and romance of Shipping.

With incredible wit, drama and insight he manages to take the human condition and apply it to the everyday lives of people like you and me.

He has written several books, written and appeared in several television programmes and recently co founded a new educational establishment in Central London called the school of life.

check out his website on http://www.alaindebotton.com/

So here is the great news. Having read a number of his books (and watched his tv shows - i am a true fan) and noticing the interest in shipping I took the opportunity to send Mr De Botton an email in praise of his writing and asking about his interest in shipping.

Like any good broker I also took the opportunity to mention my Blog and my vain attempt at the occassional bit of amateur philosophical intercourse.

Guess what! To my great surpirse he answered my email......

Here is his reply

Qte

Dear VS

I love your blog and its underlying philosophy of life (wise, wry, sceptical). Thank you so much for reading my book - and I wish i could have met you during its writing so as to be able to benefit from your insights. You perfectly fulfill my idea of a modern model human who combines the active and contemplative life.

With very good wishes

Alain De Botton (Monday 6th July 2009)

Unquote


So there you have it everyone. My head is huge. If my nonsensicle rantings are good enough for the wonderful Alain De Botton then your patronage of this website has been well worth the risk!

In all seriousness though, a huge thank you the Alain for taking the time to read the blog and reply with such humour, to the email of a starry eyed fan.

There is a nice moral here aswell. Never be afraid to send emails and ask questions - you never know who might reply!

Your
VS

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Apology

I would just like to offer my heartfelt apologies for all the spelling errors in my blog and books (now and in the future)! Blogs dont offer spell checks and I just spit this stuff out without checking my own writing. Sorry!

Cheers
VS

Shipbroking platforms - update

In a previous post I mentioned that the absence of any obvious and real revenue streams led me to the conclusion that the only use for these platforms is to provide some other supposedly unrelated company with "lead generation'.

The process being that someone gives the webbased company the details of a ship and cargo for sale in the understanding that there would be other counterparties with whom they can contract. And then unbeknownst to them 'out of the blue' a supposedly unrelated shipbroking company gives the client a phone call and offers them a service. The problem here is that the supposedly unrelated shipbroking company is also the owner of the 'unrelated' webpage but does not declare this anywhere or even admit this down the track.

A bit sneaky and I have become aware that this is infact the modus operandi for atelast two of these websites.

So buyer beware - when you are joing any of these websites what you are infact doing, on many occassion, is merely providing a 'shipping entrepreneur' with your contact details and paying for the privilege. Do not expect to be fixing ships in the way that the websites portrays.

Yours
Virtual Shipbroker

Friday, July 3, 2009

The mystery of big ships and life at sea

"These tall and handsome ships, swaying imperceptibly on tranquil waters, these sturdy ships, with their inactive, nostalgic appearance, dont they say to us in speechless tongue: When do we cast off for happiness"

Charles Baudelaire 19th century French philospher/critic - his romantic views of the big ships and the dreams and mysteries that their exotic passage may entail! He hated staying at home and longer for the mysteries of the East. For many shipping people this attraction remains.