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Watchkeeper: Remembering who the customers are

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It is a truth which is so manifestly obvious that it scarcely needs spelling out, that the “customer is always right”. Common sense might also suggest that if you wish to have a healthy and productive relationship with a customer, you do not put obstacles in his way, making it hard for him to do business, lest this angry customer go elsewhere.

Ships and shipping companies are the customers of ports, but how often do ports give the appearance of being actively hostile to their customers as they surround them with their own pettifogging regulations which actually handicap the smooth operations of these customers?

At the end of last month one of the biggest ship suppliers in the UK pointed out that too often, the delivered price of ships’ stores is going up steeply on account of the difficulties they have in getting the goods their customers are buying aboard ship. Once it was a simple matter of the stores supplier driving his van alongside the ship and, depending on the weight of the goods, either carrying the stuff up the gangway or using a ship’s crane to lift it aboard. The goods would be checked, signed for and the van driver would depart. Job done!

Now in many ports, “dry” access to ships for stores delivery has become difficult or impossible, with expensive barges having to be used to take the goods alongside the ship. This, said Alex Taylor, managing director of the old-established ships’ chandler Huttons, was a growing worldwide problem, notably prevalent in European continental ports and one which was putting up delivery costs substantially.

Port authorities will cite issues of safety and security for their regulatory approach to what sort of deliveries are permitted to reach the landside of a ship. They will point out that these are imposed upon them by higher authorities and they have little choice other than to comply. Nevertheless, there is more than a suggestion that these blanket bans which make it difficult or impossible for deliveries to be made to a ship from the landside are undertaken because to a certain kind of official, it is always easier to say “no” than “yes”! The fact that some ports and terminals make it perfectly possible for an authorised visitor to drive a van alongside a port to deliver stores without menacing the integrity of the security plan or anyone’s safety, effectively demonstrates that such a service can be provided.

Somehow, in all the regulatory approaches to port security and safety, the needs of the customer sometimes seem to have been forgotten or set aside for something judged more “important”. Often it seems to have been forgotten that the ship and the shipping company are the customers of a port and without them, the port will die. Of course there needs to be a strict control of who and what comes in through the gates, but “facilitation” of trade and transport is the prime function of a port and should not be forgotten.

There needs to be much more thought given by those running port authorities and terminal management to the practical needs of the visiting ship which is, let us remind them, paying their wages. Whether it is the crew member wishing to use the agent’s car to visit the doctor, a crew change, the engineer coming to fix the radar or a consignment of engine room stores to be delivered, these are the wholly legitimate needs of the customer and officialdom and regulations alike need to recognise this!
Articles written by the Watchkeeper and other outside contributors do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of BIMCO.

(source: BIMCO)

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