Posted Jan. 1, 2015, 4:35 p.m.
AGENCY FEES IN ITALY – What You Should Expect To Pay By Edward Pegan There has been much said and written about the use of yacht agents in the last couple of years, with much of the emphasis on the Mediterranean. Many of the same questions and arguments appear: Why use agents? Are agents obligatory? Are agents necessary? How are fees and charges regulated? Many of the answers depend on geography and local laws, but in most cases are fairly simple and straightforward. First, it is important to define what exactly a professional yacht agent is. In most places, Italy in particular, becoming an agent is a formal process that takes years of apprenticeship coupled with the passing of a complex examination. Detailed knowledge of local laws and regulations are necessary for the safety of port employees, vessels and their crews, as well as for the protection of the sea and environment. When an agent is appointed, he or she becomes the official representative in port for the owner both on a legal and fiscal basis. Because of these obligations, the legal and financial responsibilities of an agent are quite substantial. Most countries have associations of ship agents and brokers, which serve to regulate fees and services as well as work with government officials to advance the maritime industry and its laws in their respective locations. Are agents obligatory? With the yachting industry moving ever so more towards commercial classifications, the furthering of international security requirements and the increase in size of individual yachts, the answer is becoming more and more a “yes” in many areas. There are some places that do not require the use of a ship or yacht agent, but these are primarily in smaller marinas and ports and mainly concern privately used vessels under a certain gross tonnage, which is normally two hundred tons. Beyond the obligations, the necessity of an agent is also ever increasing. Short turnaround times, required crew time off and complex port procedures and operations make the use of an agent convenient and secure. Language barriers, hard-to-find goods and services, and last minute requests are additional motives. How are fees and charges regulated? Again this varies from country to country, but most fees are governed by the various ship and agency associations. Italy has come up quite often in the last two years as a point of contention, but truth be told; all fees are fixed by Federagenti (the Italian association for ship and yacht agents). Any professional agent should be able to submit the regulated price sheet, and those not adhering to this should be brought forth for noncompliance penalties. It should also be noted that while a vessel may use only one agent for different or multiple cruising areas, each port will have procedural requirements and costs as well as agency fees, and again, all of this can be easily obtained through the agent or the various associations. One should also keep in mind that most items on an agency invoice, regardless of the country, are fees that are not coming from the agent himself, but in fact are being paid for by the agent on behalf of the owner. Most countries require that agents sign off on the guarantee of fees being paid and the same agent becomes financially responsible for payment. Captains, owners or managers should discuss all charges with their appointed agents in advance, so that all expenses are known beforehand and agreed upon. When scrutinizing any invoice, it is also important to ask and understand which items are supplied and charged by the agent, and which items are paid for by the agent on behalf of the owner. It happens that sometimes the total on an agency invoice can grow quite large, but on further inspection becomes clear that a very high percentage of that total is going to various suppliers and service providers and not to the agent himself. While all of this appears fairly straightforward, there remain constant misunderstandings throughout the industry on the issue of yacht and ship agents. A variety of industry groups maintain committees for managers, charter brokers, captains, etc…, but in most cases none of the committees have representation by professional agents. Perhaps a possible solution to eliminate some of these misunderstanding would be to involve yacht agents more in the various committees and publish some of the discussions. After all, no matter from what sector of the industry all are coming from, the end objective is always the same: Providing a safe and enjoyable cruise to the owners and charter guests, as it is this group of people that keeps everyone in the industry gainfully employed.