A focus on the African continent and within South Africa aims to highlight the opportunities of the Blue Economy for economic growth and job creation, but not much has been said about promoting the exciting prospects of expanding the ranks of ships’ agents in Africa who truly understand the nature of maritime business in the region.

It is true that every region or port has its own peculiarities and legislation that needs to be navigated by agents that facilitate the requirements of a ship as it enters any port.

In the context of the continental AIMS 2050 (African Integrated Maritime Strategy 2050) as well as the South African Operation Phakisa ambitions that have as objectives a bolstered maritime and shipping sector – the opportunities to strengthen and develop ships’ agents should be given.

Like many of the lesser-known career options, however, becoming a ships’ agent is seldom at the top of any youngster’s career choice while at school. More should be done to promote this as the exciting and varied career that it is.

“Anyone who is dynamic with a willingness to learn will be assured of a successful career in this fast-paced sector,” says Paula Giusti, Marketing Executive for Trade Ocean in Cape Town.

With branches in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Saldanha Bay, Durban and Walvis Bay, Trade Ocean’s agents are experts in the region in which they operate and aim to familiarise themselves with the nuances of working within these ports.

“A good agent builds strong relationships with their clients, service providers and port authorities to ensure that they can provide solutions to problems that surface during port visits,” she says adding that they need to be aware of new port developments, restrictions and legislation in order to plan accordingly.

This is a career that requires people to think on their feet and respond agilely to current circumstances. It is perfect for people seeking to engage with an international client set; interested in the global economy, and driven by a commitment to service delivery excellence.

“No one really plans to become a ships’ agent, but those that do and who are successful, find it immensely rewarding,” says Giusti who adds that the industry needs to reach out more to schools to promote the opportunities and attract quality candidates.

“There’s a real art to this work. It’s about balancing relationships and delivering a service based on a depth of knowledge of the complexities of moving ships and cargo; of understanding legal issues; of responding to problems 24/7, and fostering loyalty,” she explains.

The opportunities for regional and local experts that can offer solutions to an expanding shipping and port sector need to be cultivated to help realise the ambitions of increasing inter-African as well as international trade with the continent.

“Our aspirations for an economically prosperous African continent hedge heavily on a seamless transport and logistics sector. These aspirations can be met with the help of well-trained ships’ agents who are regional and local experts,” says Giusti.