The unknown broker
I’ve now had the pleasure and honour of being General Manager of Shipbrokers Finland for almost three years. My work has been both interesting and eye-opening. I’ve learnt about a profession whose existence isn’t really understood outside the shipping industry, and even maritime professionals only have a vague notion of what a shipbroker or agent does. “But what does a broker actually do?” is a question that I hear a lot.
Do you remember The Onedin Line? The gruff protagonist of this series, James Onedin, sailed his own ship and cargo across the seas and sold everything when he reached his destination – sometimes even the ship itself. And earnt money! However, he still needed to buy a new ship, or at least a new cargo, in order to get home. Laborious? Yes.
At some point, even the super tight-fisted Onedin realised that it’s a good idea to have some help. He needed someone who could assist him in buying and selling cargo, and also handle the port services required by the ship, crew and any passengers. Even when vessels run on environmentally friendly wind power, the crew still needs to eat and drink.
The job title and duties of the “shipbroker” became established during the 1800s with the advent of steampower.
Transport got faster, and shipping and trade generated work. The authorities’ demands for information also created extra work for brokers.
A hundred years ago, on a beautiful spring day, a group of gentlemen met at Hotel Kämp. There wasn’t anything unusual in that per se, but these gentlemen had a goal: to establish their own association! Finlands Skeppsmäklare Förening first saw the light of day on 18 March 1920. When their activities were launched, there were familiar companies operating then as now, such as Herman Andersson from Oulu and Victor Ek from Helsinki. Dahlbergs’ Agency is another current operator that was already in existence back then.
Long-term operations, long-lasting customer relationships and mutual trust have always been typical features of the industry. Its areas of influence have also remained almost unchanged for a hundred years: fairway charges, pilotage, cooperation with the authorities, and the functionality of cargo markets.
Without shipbrokers, Finland would have no foreign trade. More than two-thirds of cargo deliveries and port visits are made by foreign vessels whose loads and movements are managed by members of Shipbrokers Finland: agents, brokers, port operators and global container companies.
You can read more about the association and its current activities online at www.shipbrokers.fi, and more about its history at www.historia.shipbrokers.fi.
Sari Turkkila is the General Manager of Shipbrokers Finland.