No dummies in the ICS

Posted on Friday, September 13, 2013 and tagged as Press

Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers examination

"PORT side to, three gangs and don't forget the dummy," shouted Captain Hughie Roberts, the Pakistan National Shipping Corporation supercargo, as he left the office at about 20:00 on Friday.

It was the first ships' agency I had handled on my own from Tilbury Docks, but it seemed quite straightforward: the vessel would be arriving on Sunday afternoon for work at 8 -9 sheds general cargo berths on Monday morning.

But as many know in shipping, the best-laid plans are subject to change. There were storms in the English Channel over the weekend and the ship's estimated time of arrival went back and back.

I spent much of the weekend updating the harbour master, the pilots and tug company, and the vessel eventually arrived alongside at 02:00 hrs Monday.

After visiting the ship once it was alongside and going over the paperwork with the dog-tired master, I crawled into bed at around 04:00, quite pleased that I had accomplished my first ship agency assignment.

So despite the lack of sleep, I arrived at Tilbury in good spirits in time for the 07:00 shift, only to be met by an angry, red-faced Capt Roberts.

"Where's the **** dummy?" screamed the Welshman.

I looked around the dock to see scenes of chaos: there were barges everywhere and dockers huddled together smoking and laughing, but not working...

In the middle of organising the PNSC ship's arrival, I had forgotten to order the dummy quay that allowed barges to be worked from both sides of the ship.

Three hours' work was lost as the mooring gangs were recalled and the dummy quay positioned. Suffice to say, I was not the most popular young agency clerk for a while, but it was a salutary lesson and a mistake I never made again.

I started my shipping career in liner agency as a junior clerk, progressing in due course to Malta port clerk, issuing bills of lading against shipped on board dock notes.

This involved noting any defect/damage and adding a clause appropriately, but there were already many clauses in small print on the back of the bills of lading, such as: the Paramount clause; the Both to Blame Collision clause; the New Jason clause and the General Average clause.

I had no idea of their significance and asking around my seniors, it seemed not many of them did either. Most said: "We don't get involved; that's for the claims department."

I vowed one day to learn what they meant and several years later, when I became Tilbury regional manager at a major agency company, I started my quest for knowledge in earnest.

Being at the sharp end of operations, I obviously had a good foundation of knowledge, but when I signed up to take the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers exams, I soon realised how comparatively little I actually knew.

I have to admit I struggled to cover the comprehensive range of examinations that qualify you for membership, trying to balance studying with a demanding job and a young family. In fact, I failed law at my first sitting and found it very tough to pick up the legal books again to retake the exam the next year.

But I did it, and it was one of my proudest moments when I received a letter confirming I had passed the final exam and would, in due course, be elected to membership of the ICS.

The company I was working for congratulated me - but that was it.

Indeed, it is a poor reflection of the shipping industry in the UK that no qualifications are actually required before you are put in charge of handling the agency of a 10,000 teu behemoth containership.

It was probably at that stage I realised I was working for the wrong company; good shipping companies not only recognise the ICS qualification, but also encourage their staff to take the exams.

The ICS examination is the only globally recognised shipping qualification and the ICS is the only internationally recognised professional body in the maritime arena.

I found this to be particularly true when I travelled extensively abroad on business and it is the reason why, after decades of UK-based executive meetings, it was decided a few years back to hold the annual meeting of the Controlling Council - the ICS's governing body - in the Asian shipping hub, Singapore.

The Singapore CC meeting and connected seminars were very successful and really proved beyond doubt how international the ICS has become and how highly regarded the qualification is in the shipping industry.

In 2011, the CC was held in Chennai and once again the interest was overwhelming, with all the regional and Indian national newspapers comprehensively covering the event.

This year, the CC moves to Vancouver in late September and, as the member representing the East Anglia branch, I will join more than 30 of my FICS colleagues from around the world to tackle the comprehensive agenda compiled by ICS director Julie Lithgow.

Many important issues will be debated in Vancouver, but there is none more important than the official election to membership of newly qualified students.

It is a qualification I have always been proud of and Capt Roberts might have grudgingly admitted that I deserved.

Lloyd's List Wednesday 11th September 2013