Emily M. Chiarizia, Esq.

By: Emily M. Chiarizia, Esq. on September 19th, 2023

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Choosing the Right Logistics Partner: Freight Forwarder (FF) vs. Non-Vessel-Operating Common Carrier (NVOCC)

Business Advice | Logistics | Transportation | Freight Management | Shippers

In today's globalized economy, efficient and reliable shipping services are essential. When it comes to managing the complex logistics of transporting goods across borders, many shippers turn to experienced logistics providers to streamline their supply chain and provide cost savings. Two commonly used types of logistics providers are freight forwarders (FFs) and non-vessel-operating common carriers (NVOCCs).

In this blog post, we will explore the definitions, advantages, disadvantages, and primary differences between FFs/Ocean Freight Forwarders (OFFs) and NVOCCs. We will also discuss how businesses can determine which option fits their shipping needs best.

What is a Freight Forwarder (FF)?

A freight forwarder acts as an intermediary between shippers and various transportation services, facilitating the movement of goods from one location to another. FFs handle a range of logistics services, including documentation, customs clearance, cargo consolidation, warehousing, and transportation coordination. They leverage their extensive network of carriers and agents to provide comprehensive solutions tailored to the unique requirements of each shipment.

Ocean Freight Forwarder - 9.19.23What is an Ocean Freight Forwarder (OFF)?

An ocean freight forwarder specializes in managing the transportation of goods via ocean carriers. OFFs have expertise in navigating the complexities of ocean shipping, including negotiating contracts with shipping lines, coordinating bookings, preparing necessary documentation, and providing track and trace services. They play a crucial role in ensuring the efficient and secure movement of cargo across international waters.

Advantages of a Freight Forwarder/Ocean Freight Forwarder

Expertise and Industry Knowledge: FFs/OFFs possess in-depth knowledge of international shipping regulations, customs procedures, and documentation requirements. Their expertise helps businesses navigate complex trade compliance issues, reducing the risk of delays and costly errors.

Extensive Network: FFs/OFFs have established relationships with a wide range of carriers, including ocean liners, airlines, trucking companies, and rail operators. This allows them to leverage their network to secure competitive rates, reliable capacity, and efficient transportation solutions for their customers.

Consolidation Services: FFs/OFFs often offer consolidation services, which combine multiple shipments from different customers into a single container. This allows businesses with smaller loads to benefit from cost savings associated with sharing container space.

Value-Added Services: FFs/OFFs can provide additional services such as cargo insurance, customs brokerage, warehousing, distribution, and supply chain consulting. These value-added services enable businesses to optimize their logistics operations and focus on their core competencies.

Disadvantages of a Freight Forwarder/Ocean Freight Forwarder

Cost Considerations - 9.19.23Limited Control: When relying on a FF/OFF, businesses relinquish some control over the logistics process. While FFs/OFFs ensure seamless coordination, unforeseen circumstances such as port congestion, weather events, or carrier delays can still impact the shipping timeline.

Cost Considerations: FFs/OFFs charge fees for their services, including freight forwarding, documentation, and handling charges. Businesses should carefully evaluate these costs to ensure they align with their budget and shipping requirements.

What is a Non-Vessel-Operating Common Carrier (NVOCC)?

A non-vessel-operating common carrier (NVOCC) is a type of freight forwarder that operates without owning or operating its own ocean vessels. Instead, NVOCCs consolidate cargo from multiple shippers and arrange transportation with ocean carriers on their behalf. NVOCCs have contracts with various transportation providers and assume responsibility for the movement of goods between ports.

Advantages of an NVOCC

Single Point of Contact: By working with an NVOCC, businesses have a single point of contact for their international shipping needs. NVOCCs handle all aspects of the transportation process, from booking cargo space to managing documentation and customs requirements. This simplifies communication and streamlines the logistics workflow.

Global Network - 9.29.23Comprehensive Services: NVOCCs offer end-to-end logistics services, encompassing everything from pickup at the origin to delivery at the final destination. They take care of freight consolidation, booking cargo space, documentation, customs clearance, and tracking, providing businesses with a hassle-free shipping experience.

Global Network: NVOCCs typically have extensive networks of carriers and agents worldwide, enabling them to offer frequent sailings, competitive rates, and reliable capacity. Their global presence ensures that businesses can ship to various destinations efficiently and cost-effectively.

Disadvantages of an NVOCC

Limited Flexibility: NVOCCs primarily operate within predefined shipping routes and schedules. This may restrict the flexibility of businesses that require customized or specialized shipping solutions outside the standard offerings of NVOCCs.

Reliance on Carrier Performance: As NVOCCs do not own vessels, they rely on ocean carriers to transport goods. Any disruptions or delays caused by the ocean carriers can indirectly impact the shipment's timeline, despite the NVOCC's best efforts to mitigate such issues.

Primary Differences between an Ocean Freight Forwarder and an NVOCC

While both OFFs and NVOCCs offer international shipping solutions, there are some critical distinctions between the two:

BOL - 9.19.23Ownership of Vessels: OFFs do not own vessels but work with carriers to secure space on their ships, while NVOCCs do not own vessels but issue their own bills of lading, acting as the carrier of record.

Liability and Responsibility: OFFs act as intermediaries between shippers and carriers, assuming limited liability for the transportation of goods. NVOCCs, on the other hand, have contracts with carriers and take on greater responsibility and liability for the shipment.

Documentation: OFFs issue bills of lading on behalf of the carriers, while NVOCCs issue their own bills of lading as the contracted carrier.

Choosing Between an NVOCC and a Freight Forwarder/Ocean Freight Forwarder

To determine whether to leverage an NVOCC or a FF/OFF, consider the following factors:

Shipment Requirements: Evaluate the specific requirements of your shipment, such as volume, destination, transit time, and any specialized handling or documentation needs. An NVOCC may be suitable if your shipment involves consolidating cargo or requires end-to-end services. However, if you require a broader range of logistics services or have complex supply chain needs, a FF/OFF might be a better fit.

Network and Coverage: Assess the geographic coverage and network capabilities of the FF/OFF or NVOCC under consideration. Consider their expertise in specific trade lanes, frequency of sailings/flight, carrier relationships, and ability to cater to your unique shipping requirements.

Track Record and Reputation: Research the reputation and track record of the logistics providers you are considering. Look for customer testimonials, industry certifications, and case studies highlighting their experience, reliability, and customer satisfaction.

Cost Analysis: Compare the pricing structures, fees, and overall cost implications of using an NVOCC or a FF/OFF. Consider the services included in the pricing and evaluate them against your needs and budget constraints.

About Emily M. Chiarizia, Esq.

Emily Chiarizia has been with Armstrong since 2018. As General Counsel, Emily is responsible for litigation management, internal policy development, compliance, risk management, contract negotiation, and the resolution of commercial cargo matters for Armstrong's 130+ agency offices.