Dubai-based shipping agency WaterFront Maritime Services is on track to grow its business rapidly around the globe, seizing opportunities from challenges the maritime sectors is facing today and the ongoing consolidation seen across the industry.
The company was launched in February last year, leveraging the strengths of the company’s shareholders Sharaf Shipping Agency and Ben Line Agencies.
The company started with a network of 299 propriety offices across 49 countries, which has since grown to 414 offices across 67 countries.
“Growing a new business has not been without its challenges, but we are seeing an appetite for quality agency services provided by the same organisation at both load and discharge ports; something that most agency businesses with bulk handling expertise cannot offer,” says Terry Gidlow, WaterFront’s CEO.
Gidlow reckons owners, operators and cargo traders continue to suffer from a lack of visibility over operations in port and further up the supply chain.
“There is the constant struggle to manage shipping and supply chain costs, but developments in IT and technology are helping to manage this problem. That said, many shipowners and cargo traders are still not leveraging the technology and intelligence now available to them. This is good news for WaterFront and our hub agency offering, because it means that we can offer them increased visibility and cost control for our customers using our hub agency approach,” Gidlow explains.
Gidlow says port agents across the world are having to change thanks to developments in technology, both digital and physical, while the landscape has changed considerably in terms of turnaround times in port and the need to manage costs and compete to the very smallest of margins is critical.
“In the last two years, the administrative burden on agents and their principals has continued to increase significantly. This has been largely down to changing regulatory requirements and the ability to gather, manipulate and share information at a much faster rate,” Gidlow maintains.
According to Gidlow, WaterFront acts as a global service provider by utilising its tailor-made IT system which enables its global hub team to quickly and accurately process, aggregate, then sanitise comprehensive sets of real-time port and commodity data.
“This enables us to find specific, actionable solutions for managing specific dry or wet trade routes, which our customers can apply to save them time and money in port, and further up their supply chain,” Gidlow explains.
In Gidlow’s opinion, consolidations and acquisitions are likely in the port and container terminal sector in the coming years and it will continue to be most prevalent in the container shipping segment, while major bulk terminals and ports may also be consolidated as consumer demand and the changing energy landscape evolves in the longer term. Moreover, China’s expansive Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will result in increased Chinese investment in critical logistics infrastructure across Asia, Africa, Europe and South America.
“As a global port agency business, we see a lot of opportunity from the BRI, but it is also critical that businesses across the supply chain continue to watch this project as it develops and ensure that they are poised to make the most of changing trading opportunities, routes and challenges each may present,” Gidlow says.
“Ultimately, we are able to continue growing because WaterFront is a unique offering in the ship agency segment, which has traditionally grown and transformed as a result of mergers and acquisitions, rather than partnerships. Through the WaterFront network, we can offer shipowners, managers and charterers the benefit of the local knowledge, experience and relationships of our local partners at both ends of a transaction, through a single point of contact,” Gidlow concludes.