General cargo: A day in the life of a boarding clerk

General cargo: A day in the life of a boarding clerk

“The term general cargo relates to any cargo that a stevedore loads and unloads with a forklift truck, the main cargo being timber. There are also dry bulk flows such as soya, flour, corn and coal. Compared to tankers, where numerous parties are involved in the transport of large volume, valuable cargo under enormous pressure time, in general cargo, unexpected events are very much the exception. Nevertheless, a boarding clerk must always be alert. After all, every customer is entitled to optimum service. On the other hand, general cargo is more relaxed and less formal. The vessels rarely require a pilot and are often able to moor without tug assistance. Loading and unloading are also not 24-hour operations. Even so, whatever the cargo type, the role of SSA is to act rapidly and that includes the flexible management of information flows between all relevant parties. SSA is the spider in the communication web, 24-7.”

Standard information flows

  • Pro Forma Disbursement Account, an estimate made by SSA of the costs incurred by a vessel for pilots, tugs, flatmen, harbour charges, waste disposal, etc.
  • a Pre-Arrival Request with information about waste disposal, ISPS, a crew list, draught, etc.
  • EDI message from SSA to the port authority via the Portbase port information system, indicating whether the vessel is permitted to travel to the terminal, the cargo, any hazardous substances and intended activity in the port.
  • a notification mail from the vessel containing information about ETA, and for example whether the ship is first required to anchor.

The proactive approach at SSA ensures that all information is provided to the relevant parties, in good time. Standards are high. SSA reports to all parties, no questions asked. If a customer needs to request information from SSA, that means we are already too late. Equally, it rarely if even happens.

Specific tasks and information flows

As soon as the ship is moored at the terminal, one of the four boarding clerks at SSA will board the ship. He will take with him a package of orders from the captain, and for every action taken will record the precise time: vessel secured, start of loading/unloading, etc. The boarding clerk also completes various forms: a store list, a crew list, a personal effects list, and listens to the captain’s requests. Does a crew member need to visit the doctor or dentist, for example? The boarding clerk also arranges waste collection, any repairs and coordinates bunkering (60-70% of all vessels bunker in Amsterdam) so that all these tasks are completed within the ship mooring time.

When the vessel departs, the boarding clerk collects the cargo documents, completes the outgoing crew lists and organizes outward customs clearance. Following departure, the clerk transmits the compulsory EXS report via Portbase to the authorities.

Twenty pairs of eyes

The boarding clerk is not only an immediate service provider for the vessel; he also represents the eyes and ears of the captain’s office. He is constantly alert and takes nothing for granted. If anything appears unusual or out of place, he asks questions and reports back. “A boarding clerk needs twenty pairs of eyes”, said Thijs Boerma. “These skills make a real difference. For the customer, a competent boarding clerk more than earns back his fee. A charterer or ship owner is only able to operate efficiently – in a world where time is money – on the basis of the information we provide. He must be able to assume that that information will be available rapidly, up to date and reliable. That trust is the foundation stone for our business.”

Possible problems

“Specific general cargo-related problems often relate to weather conditions”, explained Thijs. Due to poor weather, vessels may arrive late or part of the cargo may have been damaged by rainwater penetration. Surveyors rarely have to be called in for the settlement of claims. The stevedores at the Beverwijk Dorrestijn timber terminal, for example, simply place the damaged cargo to one side, and it is our task to report the situation to the client. When it comes to repairs and possible spillages, SSA can also play a mediating role. “We are always on top of things.”

Cargo and ships

General cargo ships visiting Amsterdam vary considerably in size, from coasters up to bulk carriers. Time in port depends on the loading and unloading timetable and of course the volume of cargo to be transhipped.