Ship Agents in Argentina

The Ship Agent can fall into different categories, according to the tasks and responsibilities assigned to him by the appointing party. Normally there are three categories, and each can be covered by a different Agent, or two of them or even all three categories unified in one Agent. These typical categories to which we refer are:
 
Customs transport Agent
Customarily known as “CTA” (Customs Transport Agent). Deals with entrance, clearance, cargo operations, etc., with all the intervening Argentine authorities, except in those cases where, on account of their nature, (smuggling, collisions, accidents, legal questions, etc.), it is more convenient for the Confidential/Protecting Agent, if appointed, to attend to the matter. Charterers usually have the right to appoint their own Agents, to attend to Customs formalities concerning the cargo, for ships chartered to load or discharge full cargoes at Argentine ports.
 
Confidential/protecting Agent
Such an Agent is at times appointed by Owners or time charterers to assist the Master, and to attend to matters concerning the crew, provisions, repairs, payment of ship’s disbursements, forwarding copies of cargo documents to Owners, checking accounts presented by charterers’ Agents, etc.
 
Supervisory Agent
Intervenes for account of, and to look after, the interests of a third party, and takes no part in the work of the other two Agents.
 
Rules as regards ship Agents
Articles 193/200 of Law 20,094 (Navigation Law) regulate the position of a Ship-agent along the general lines already established in jurisprudence. The main points are:
   a) To represent the Master and Owners in all legal questions and in all matters related to private or public entities involving Customs, due to actions taken on their behalf whilst attending to a vessel (art. 193).
   b) The capacity referred to in a) ceases when the Owner or operator of the vessel is domiciled in Argentina.
   c) When the C. House Agent is named by the charterer, the Owner or operator may name another Agent (the so called Confidential Agent) who will then exercise the legal representation of the Owner or operator (art. 194).
   d) The Ship Agent cannot be held responsible for the obligations of his principals, that is, for the obligations of the Master, Owner, or operator of the vessel for whose account he has acted (art. 199), unless an undertaking was made to the contrary, or is so liable in law.
 
Payment of disbursements
It is usual for Shipowners to remit funds in advance to their own Agents (if such are appointed), who in turn hand over to the Agents appointed by charterers sufficient cash to pay for the expenses they incur on behalf of the vessel, on the basis of a pro-forma account. Cash for estimated disbursements must be handed over before the vessel sails.
If for any reason the charterer’s Agents should default, the vessel on returning to Argentina could be arrested for any account, such as towage, pilotage, etc., that was left unpaid.
 
Responsibility of vessels
Port regulations determine that:
Vessels are responsible for damages caused to buoys, chains and other objects constructed in the channels or in the ports. If from investigation made, responsibility is proved, the vessel will be attached, unless surety is given and an estimate of damages drawn up, the interested party being served with the corresponding notice in order that whatever action considered necessary, may be taken.
 
When due to any cause whatever, a vessel at fault has left the port, the Owner or Agent is responsible for payments of the fines or damages caused by the ship, and whilst these claims are unpaid or surety has not been given, no vessel of each or either of them will be cleared and no applications from either of them will be considered by the Customs, Port Authorities or Coastguard.
Transfer of Agency
To transfer the consignment of a vessel from one Agent to another in the same port, the Customs House and all other port authorities must be notified, and the new Agent must sign an acceptance.
 
Different Agents at different ports
When a vessel is attended by different Agents at different ports, each of these Agents must be duly registered with the Customs House and have complied with all the required formalities.
 
Unlimited responsibility of Agents
With regard to Customs, Port Authorities and other governmental entities the Agent is responsible for any transgression, no matter how small or how serious it may be, which may range from a small fine for a buckled rat guard on a mooring rope, to a stiff fine for omissions in a store list declaration; for fines and duties payable on shortage of goods on out-turn; for an immigration fine; for deficiency in the personal documents brought by passengers; for a deserter or stowaway; for the taxation and fines for smuggling by the crew; or because the vessel when sailing came into contact with a buoy, a dock wall, or caused any other alleged damage, whether subsequently found to blame or not; and it is always and only the Agent, who attended to the clearance of the vessel, who is responsible for all the expenses, claims, legal fees, etc., which may arise out of these cases.
All the foregoing is aggravated by the fact that the period of prescription is, in most cases, ten years, and in the interim, the authorities have the right to claim whatever they consider they are entitled to, and failure of the Agent to comply with these demands, may result in suspension until such matters are settled. Unless there is a special attachment made on the vessel, sailing is permitted without any inconvenience, as the authorities hold the Ship-agent responsible for the payment of all dues, fines and damages imputable to the ship.
 
Retroactive charges
If, in accordance with local laws or regulations in force, any retroactive charges are made on the vessel after sailing, the Agent is held responsible for payment of these charges even if the accounts between Owner and Agents for the voyage in question have been settled.
 
Ship Agent’s responsibility in cases of Customs House fines
Laws 19,881 and 19,890, of 1972, establish joint responsibility for payment of fines arising from shortages and differences in imports or exports, re-exports or temporary imports or for any falsity which may be proved in declarations or documents presented to Customs.
This joint liability applies to all who may have intervened in the operation such as Owners, shipper, Agent or Master of the vessel, unless they can prove that they are involved solely by reason of carrying out their duties or contractual obligations, Law 19,890 establishes that total or partial shortage of goods imported, exported or in transit must pay the corresponding duties, and fixes the joint liability for the payment of these dues on the transporter, Ship Agent, consignee, importer, etc. Under these laws, owners, directors, etc., of an agency have an unlimited liability with regard to their personal property or belongings.
 
The Customs Law 21,898 aggravates the position of the Ship Agent for breaches of the regulations. Art. 189, refers to increased and indexed payments ‘when the act or omission is due to negligence, imprudence, ignorance of the trade or profession, or inobservance of the laws, regulations or duties of the office’. It specifically refers to the importer, exporter, Customs broker, Ship Agent and shipchandler who present to the Customs, permits, certificates or documents adulterated or falsified for obtaining an undue benefit.
 
Ship Agents, exporters and shipchandlers
Applications made to the Customs House by the Shipchandlers for permission to embark stores must also be countersigned by the Ship Agents who thus share the responsibility that the quantities embarked will not exceed the maximum permitted for export.
 
Control of shipchandlers and others boarding ships to offer services
All firms or persons providing or offering services to ships, such as shipchandlery, laundry, engineering and technical repairs, medical, etc., must be registered with the Port authorities, and have a certificate from the ship-agent authorizing them to board ships under his Agency for the purpose stated.