|A matter of give and take|
|Tuesday, 06 March 2012 16:40|
Page 1 of 2
“Why are you consistently so nasty and disrespectful of shippers?” – asks a correspondent, who goes on to suggest that as shippers are the customers, they should be treated by people like me with more politeness. After all, the customer is supposed to be always right.
I must plead guilty as charged, but offer some extenuating circumstances to the effect that it tends to be organisations of shippers, rather than individual customers of the carriers, who deserve an occasional custard pie. Just as I dislike children who constantly whine, shippers’ organisations moan like the wind in the struts of the Sydney Harbour bridge. They seem to think that whining is what they were put on Earth for, and I guess this is correct, but they seem unable to ever give carriers, who invest a lot of money in ships and their operation, any credit whatsoever.
Take their everlasting opposition to the liner conferences, which, at least in the ears of sympathetic eurocrats in Brussels, was successful in seeing them banned as anti-competitive. Other countries had rather more sense, realising that the stability the conferences brought to shipping capacity greatly outweighed any disadvantages. Maybe in their early days, liner conferences were exclusive cartels, but for at least the past fifty years they have been far less so, and non-conference alternatives have invariably been available to provide plenty of choice.
I always like to cite the remarks of the chairman of P&O, Sir Donald Anderson who, when speaking to New Zealanders in 1968, argued in defence of the conference system that provided shipping servicing the longest route in the world. Ian Farquar’s brilliant book “The Tyser Legacy” reports him as saying:
“We carry easy and difficult cargo; we serve good ports and bad ports; we send ships out to New Zealand in ballast because the trade is imbalanced; we get cargo on our merits or lose it on our demerits; we have no patronage, no special privilege, no exclusive rights that we have not earned.”
He also went on to suggest that the carriers claimed the right to make a fair return on capital invested, just like the shippers did.
It is no different today, except that the shippers’ organisations are perhaps better connected and will go into “auto-whine” mode if the carriers find that all their profit is going on fuel and want to put on a few dollars per box to restore the status quo. And they never stop exaggerating their manifold disadvantages and weaknesses in the face of “mighty carrier power”. Chance would be a fine thing.
But I’m afraid that my main objections to shippers these days stems from their inability to prevent so many practices that are actually hazardous for those operating ships, or even port equipment. Just before Christmas, the Tokyo-based International Association of Ports and Harbors joined with the World Shipping Council, the International Chamber of Shipping and BIMCO in their campaign to have containers weighed and the weight verified before they are loaded aboard a ship.
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