The last two years have been the worst ever for the international shipping fraternity , and there are few signs to indicate any improvement for either the steamship operator or the freight forwarder in the foreseeable future.

This then may be a good time for the shipping industry to re-evaluate its modus operandi, a time to re-examine the various segments of international transportation to see who is doing what and who can do it best.Since the birth of the container, steamship lines have gradually moved into every segment of the transport picture: container chassis ownership, maintenance, trucking, railing, barging, transshipping, etc. All of these costs have been included in the ocean freight rate.

With the continuing deterioration of traffic, the ocean rate has in effect been subsidizing non-ocean transportation costs. The result has been financial disaster for the carriers. The recent filing by United States Lines of Chapter 11 under the U.S. bankruptcy code tells the story.

I propose that the steamship operator do only what he does best, namely run a ship, pier to pier. Now is the time to let the container companies own, transport and maintain all containers; let the trucking companies own, manage, operate and maintain all chassis; let the railroads own, manage and operate all equipment; let the freight forwarders of the world arrange all transshipping; let the NVOs take care of all less-than-container shipments.

The steamship operator, unencumbered by all these non-steamship sagments of transportation, could concentrate his efforts and provide an efficient, economical and profitable service with a staff of hundreds.

Just think of the rates USL could have offered if they had been free to carry another company's container from New York to Rotterdam on a pier-to-pier basis only, unencumbered by costs of container, chassis, maintenance, trucking, railroad, transshipping, ferry, etc. What we need to see is the various transportation segments doing what they do best.

The international freight forwarder should do what he does best - arrange for documentation and transport of cargo with various elements of the system. The forwarder, unfettered by ownership or operational problems, can negotiate with container companies, truckers, railroads, steamship companies, overseas transshipping offices and agents for the most efficient and economical intermodal shipping of cargo.

The modern freight forwarder will become a truly intermodal non-owning, non-operating common carrier and will be able to issue one bill of lading from point of origin to point of destination in any part of the world.

It is incumbent on the steamship operators to withdraw from those areas where they lack the expertise required to be economically profitable. Let everyone do what he does best.

For the full story: Log In, Register for Free or Subscribe