Currently, there are more than 55,000 merchant ships plying global trade around the world..
These ships include General Cargo ships, Bulk and Break Bulk ships, Container ships, Chemical, Oil and LNG Tankers, Passenger, and various other types of ships..
While these are types of ships, these ships could be operating on two main types of services – Liner and Tramp services..
There are also a “specialised” shipping services that cover special trades carrying various specialised commodities such as gas, timber/logs, LNG etc using purpose built ships for that specific cargo..
The term Liner is said to have been derived from the term “line traffic” and represents ships that operate on a schedule with a fixed port rotation and published dates (and sometimes named day) of calls at the advertised ports..
Example : A service that calls the South African ports of Durban, Cape Town and Ngqura on a fixed weekly schedule carrying cargo to the UK/NWC ports of London Gateway, Antwerp, Hamburg, Le Havre and Rotterdam..
Liner shipping is not restricted to just container ships but also applies to other types of cargoes that have a regular and fixed routing/service like RoRo services, Bulk cargo services..
In liner shipping, it is normal to have blank sailings every now and then depending on various conditions..
Conference Lines were an important historic feature of ocean liner transport.. I mentioned “was” because the conference liner arrangements are no longer in practice in the container shipping industry..
Conference agreements were formal agreements between shipping lines engaged on various trading routes.. This agreement involved shipping lines fixing freight rates between the various trade lanes..
Across the years, although hundreds of conference agreements were established, they were not seen to be anti-competitive but rather as a mechanism to stabilise freight rates and avoid the fluctuations and variations in the supply and demand of ship capacity..
Some are even of the opinion that under Conference arrangement, BCOs were protected from volatility in freight rates, and carriers competed with each other more on the basis of service than on the basis of freight rates..
The conference system has given way to VSA and Global Alliances where shipping lines come together to form strategic partnerships and offer joint services by pooling vessels on many of the trade routes..
These new arrangements allow the carriers to limit their commitment of the number of vessels deployed on a service, while enjoying the benefits of the service, some even without operating any ships..
Global alliances operate on the same liner principles and cooperate only on the operational aspects of the business while maintaining their commercial integrity and independence..
A Tramp Service or tramper, on the other hand, is a ship that has no fixed routing or itinerary or schedule and is available at short notice (or fixture) to load any cargo from any port to any port..
Trampers usually carry break bulk or bulk cargoes that arrive at a port to discharge some cargo and in some cases will be looking for return cargo or cargo to other regions.. But these ships can carry many other types of non-contracted cargoes such as Containers, RoRo etc..
Example : A ship that arrives at Durban from Korea to discharge cargo might carry some other cargo from Durban to the Oakland in the West Coast of the USA which is in an entirely different direction.. From Oakland, it could carry some cargo to Bremerhaven..
It is important that the term Tramp is not misconstrued as something inferior..
That is just the name that is used in the industry because of the fact that the ship doesn’t have a fixed home (route) and is free to generally wander (sail) around the world in search of cargo fixtures or carrying cargo..
Similarities in Liner and Tramp services
In terms of vessel operation, Liner and Tramp services both have below similarities..
Vessels on both service types are :
- Proper seaworthy ships capable of carrying various types of cargoes depending on the trade route ;
- Classed by reputed classification societies ;
- Could be using open registry or FOC;
- Covered by reputable P&I clubs ;
- Manned by a crew with the required expertise to handle the operations and the voyage ;
- Vessels that may be custom built for a specific route/cargo or may be used on any route to carry any cargo ;
- Subject to the same immigration, customs, health and port requirements, and regulations, except in case of liners, where there might be a berthing window scheme in place at certain ports which allows it to berth at the nominated berth, at the nominated date/time
Differences in Liner and Tramp services
Apart from the main difference between liner and tramp discussed above, one of the main differences would be in the type of contract of carriage and Bill of Lading used..
In the case of a Liner service, the carrier operating the liner service will have their own pre-printed bill of lading or use a BIMCO ConLineBill, whereas, in the case of a Tramp service (which may be covered by a Charter Party), a bill of lading like the BIMCO ConGenBill will be used depending on the cargo, charter party etc..
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