Shipping is a traditional and romantic industry. Ship chartering, in particular, has not experienced major revolutionary changes during the years. From the Virginia and Baltick coffee house in the City of London and the Baltic Exchange we have gone to chartering via mail, telephone, and then to telex, fax and finally to e-mail. Apparently, since the very early years, it has just changed the way of communication between the parties but the whole process has remained almost the same. When you want to fix your ship, you have to build your own network, read hundreds of emails, which might also be irrelevant with what you are looking for, discuss with your counter-party for several hours and exchange various offers in writing, search information of the other party’s background in order to perform a due diligence, then draft the fixture recap and the charter party, print a copy and send to the other party for its signature.

E-Mail has sped up the communication between the parties but chartering still looks like a very time-consuming work which may take even days. And this is just for a simple fixture. Despite the fact that digitalization has been developed in all aspects of our life and while everything can now be done on the go -via a smartphone- this is not yet the case with ship chartering which has remained quite traditional. Even the special language of abbreviations which was developed in order to minimize the cost of telex remains popular nowadays, while it just creates misunderstandings and disputes between the parties. New technologies have already entered shipping, even in a limited way (e.g. electronic maps, AIS, e.t.c.) and one would expect that the commercial sector would have been one of the first to take the benefit, though chartering is not the leader of digitalization but a follower.

Could an ‘Uber of the Oceans’ concept be the start of a new era?

Our Finnish colleagues made a research and analyzed how ‘Uberization’ of short sea shipping can be effected: “Why is the Uber transportation concept interesting to compare with? Uber revolutionized the traditional taxi transportation concept by creating a new, more transparent marketplace, which is more efficient and provides a better service for a significantly lower price. It also, importantly, created a more relational approach that has a friction-free way of interacting. Moreover, by having a two-way feedback, it created a system that continuously strives to improve its performance. Another interesting factor learned from Uber is the extensive resistance from existing structures and organizations, where many of the lock-ins have made the implementation troublesome yet successful from a global perspective.”

Finnish academics were really surprised when they realized that their concept already exists and not only for Short Sea Shipping but on a greater scale of “Uber of the Oceans”. After so many years of technological revolution around us, the online marketplace has recently come to change the way that ship chartering process is taking place. With the online marketplace of OpenSea.pro which is now used by more than 1,300 professionals, you can get an instant result by avoiding the long chain of intermediaries, the time-consuming negotiations and the heavy paper works. It does not take more than a couple of minutes to join the OpenSea platform and become a member of the electronic marketplace where you can, then, register your ship’s position or post your cargo inquiry. Then, smart algorithms will automatically find the best matching cargo or ship’s position and bring the shipowner in contact with the charterer so as to fix the charter party with just a few clicks.

The OpenSea marketplace brings various revolutionary advantages in the chartering community:

A strong online community is built where you can easily communicate with the other members, establish new business relationships with them in a quicker manner and use a common platform for easier and prompt communication.

The users can easily have a clear picture of the available cargoes and ships around the world. At any given time shipowners may take a look at the online map and evaluate the demand at each port. Therefore, they can not only find cargoes for their current opening but also see the market dynamics in the area around the port of discharge so as to optimize their chartering strategy with backhaul cargoes.

It improves your own efficiency and time management since the fixture can take place way faster and even within just a few minutes. Instead of scanning your mailbox or talking on the phone for hours, the system automatically finds the best matching cargo & ship. Then you can send an offer by inserting just the necessary information and conclude the charter without leaving the service. This way, all information will be safely stored in the cloud and available from any place and any device you use.

Principal’s contact details remain private and confidential until the user starts firm negotiations with the counter-party. This way the ship/cargo details are not exposed until the parties decide to move forward. Such approach gives additional opportunity to the charterers – to place their cargoes with freight ideas and become the first to receive a firm offer.

The users can easily evaluate the performance of their counterparties. After the completion of each charter which is fixed via the OpenSea marketplace, the parties are welcome to leave feedback on the performance of their counterparty. This contributes so as the marketplace to become transparent and safer for its participants.

Furthermore, OpenSea users can save more time and update their positions or cargoes on the online map, by simply adding the ‘chartering@opensea.pro' e-mail address into their list of circulars and all changes become instantly available to the worldwide users. This way, their mailbox will not be bombed with irrelevant emails/ business but will only receive all matching opportunities or firm offers.

The online marketplace is already here and moving forward it needs to be established. The more than 1,000 members of OpenSea within just a few months show that we are not far apart. The market establishment is very important since the chartering procedures require high interaction between the parties, therefore the more the members of the marketplace, the higher the success. Any new technology needs to be used by as many companies as possible in order to become the norm in the shipping markets and this is the main reason that new technologies have failed to lead the way in the commercial sector of shipping so far. We still see chartering people to believe that digitalization is far from our industry and that new technologies are handled by the IT people only, however our world is becoming so technologically advanced that the online marketplace is the future of ship chartering.