There’s a few parts to the good/bad agent problem.
One is, like everyone else, agents are overworked, underpaid, and understaffed. Your typical agency fee is less than what the pilots make for bringing the vessel in and out. They only have to deal with the ship for a few hours. Agents have to deal with the ship for weeks, sometimes months. Owners fees? Completely garbage and not worth pittance owners want to pay. The number of times I’ve heard “Please mister agents, please assist as a courtesy to the owners - we use your company worldwide!” is in the thousands.
Courtesy doesn’t pay the light bill.
The second part is more complicated. When an agent is working for the charterer, they are under no obligation to the owners. The owners just start blasting out that “XYZ is the agent for the vessel. Contact them” and expect the agent to handle owners matters basically for free. You could argue that “it’s just adding one more email to the distro list, what’s the big deal?”. The big deal is that information is what an agent deals in most, and that information has value. It generally comes down to who - as an agent - you’re working for. THEN, it comes down to WHICH owners the agent is working for and who you working for - is the appointment from the technical managers? The crew managers? Head owners? Disponent owners? Time chartered owners? It gets real murky real fast.
Third, if the agent is not appointed and funded by the owners, then the agent is not compensated for the liability of assisted by the owners. And liability is in the information. And being a class surveyor, you are appointed and paid by the owners that are not necessarily the same as who the agent is working for (if they are indeed working for an “owner”). And if there’s a problem, there’s likely a problem or dispute between the charterers and owners who are often at odds with one another.
Fourth, and not an excuse, but an agent is tasked with communicating with dozens parties and segmenting that information as needed. On a typical coal load wherein I would be working for the charterers only, I would have read or composed 250 plus emails and fielded an unknown number of calls and (increasingly) texts. So there’s a component of task saturation. Grain? Double that. When you have 2 or 3 ships in port at any given moment and 10-15 more on the way, the information throughput is insane.
What ultimately pushed me out was the fact that I could clear out my emails at 1800, and have 250 new emails when I woke up at 0600. There was no such thing as a day off. If I didn’t monitor over the weekend? I’d have 800-1000 emails by the time I got in the office at 8am. You can’t blast out one email to everyone. You have to segregate by what they need to know. So if I am working for the charterers, shippers, and owners, then including pilots/tugs/lines/port authority updates, that’s four sets of emails that have to be composed and sent.
And that’s all being done by an agent that might be making 50K a year and working 60-80 hrs that week. Edit to add: The agency market has been destroyed by the GACs and Norton Lillys of the world that offer horrendously low rates just to get the business. It was a race to the bottom the last 15 years. And when you charge bottom of the barrel rates, you don’t have the revenue to compensate your agents or be staffed accordingly.
More than what you wanted to read, I’m sure. But most people in the industry have zero idea what the average day for an agent/agency is like.