Alpha Shipping became Conqueror’s exclusive agent in Durban, South Africa back in October 2012. Once they had had time to settle into the network, we decided to sit down with Director, Richard Brook-Hart, to find out more about the company.
Q. Could you tell me a little about the history of Alpha Shipping?
A. Back in 2004, I met with the directors of Maruba, the Shipping Line. At the time they were planning a container liner service between the Far East and South America, and we subsequently decided to jointly open an agency office in South Africa. When the SEAS service commenced in June 2005, we established Alpha Shipping as a small liner agency. At the same time, we also developed a freight forwarding operation representing several overseas companies. By 2009, we had offices in Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town, employing 27 staff. However, in the third quarter of 2009, the global debt crisis hit shipping, and within a matter of months, Maruba was forced to suspend almost all their services.
This left Alpha Shipping without its main source of revenue, so we had to rapidly rethink our strategy. We decided to expand the freight forwarding side using our contacts and knowledge from the liner business and as a result were able to keep our staff and our good name. In 2010, we bought out Maruba’s shares and became an independent privately owned company. In the last three years we have gone from being a single liner agency to a diversified group specialising in freight forwarding, NVOCC, leasing containers (we have some 300 owned units on lease) and we have leased in some 200 units for our operations.
Q. What makes Alpha Shipping stand out from the freight forwarding crowd in South Africa?
Our word is our bond. Our clients and partners know that when they ship or do any kind of business with us, we give full transparency and our dealings are always ethical and professional. This mode of thinking is engrained into our staff, and the result is that they take pride and satisfaction in their work, which reflects well on them and Alpha Shipping’s reputation.
Q. On your website, it states that ‘Company policy is to promote education and staff training.’ Why do you feel that this is so important?
Staff training is essential. Yes, it costs money, but it saves in the long run as it reduces errors. Empowering staff with knowledge gives them the confidence to speak to clients, principals, and service providers with assurance and offer the right advice. All our staff members are put through the ‘Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers’ courses. Even those who are not directly involved with shipping, such as accounts clerks, should at least undertake the basic ‘Understanding Shipping’ course. Being a Fellow of the ICS, and Chairman of the South African Branch of ICS, I continually encourage all people in shipping to do these courses. It doesn’t matter if they work for our competitors; we need to educate everyone to a high standard.
Q. What would be the most memorable shipment you and your team have handled?
A. Memorable shipments can often be for all the wrong reasons. Here is one notable example: When we were informed by the carrier that the vessel carrying several containers of soccer shirts and boots for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa was bypassing Durban due to port congestion and continuing straight to West Africa, we knew a disaster was imminent. The vessel’s agent said it was out of his hands, so we phoned the Line Manager of the shipping line in the Far East in the middle of the night, and told him it would be the worst publicity he would ever receive in his shipping career. We then independently arranged with the port to get an emergency berth, persuaded the shipping line to turn the ship round, which was now well on its way to Lagos, and discharge the containers. Fortunately, the shipping line agreed! The cargo was discharged and the World Cup went ahead on schedule. To this day, we still think the client had little idea of the lengths we went to rescue the situation, but that is all part of shipping and sometimes you just have to do these things.
Q. Alpha Shipping is one of our newer members, joining us in October 2012. What attracted you to join Conqueror as opposed to other networks?
A. We are members of other networks and do business with non affiliated freight forwarders, but one day we got fed up with always being the one who nominated the cargo, and getting nothing in return. We decided to join a group which promised more reciprocity and looked professional.
It is clear that CQR Durban runs a tight ship and that any and every shipment is safe in their hands.
We welcome all agents requiring assistance with shipments in South Africa to get in touch with the Alpha Shipping team.