Marilyn asked: Who decides where you will go next? Are you on a commercial venture? The short answer is: She's a tramp....and she does what she's told.
Have you ever heard of a tramp ship? Back in the day there were a lot ships that were considered tramps. Back when the majority of cargo was loaded by hand in exotic ports. For example, a ship going to South America may load bagged grain and it may have taken three weeks. Ships used to get cargo orders that would take them to said port and they may not know when they were loading cargo where they'd be discharging it. Sometimes the cargo orders were split - go to this port load this much then go to this port and load the rest - discharge this much here, here and here. While the vessel would be accomplishing their tasks the managers would be desperately looking for their next cargo. When they were moving between ports it was called 'tramping around'.
Tramp ships still exist - there just aren't too many of them in the US Flag fleet. Containerships would be considered a 'liner'. Vessels in the liner service know for months ahead of time exactly when they'll be in which port. There is very little deviation from their schedule - in fact a deviation from the schedule is a really big deal. If one containership is behind schedule then all the containerships are behind schedule. Large containership terminals move 'em in and move 'em out like clockwork.
In the United State most tankers operate 'coast wise'. Meaning they'll stay along the coast. For example load in Alaska discharge in Washington, Oregon and California then back to Alaska. This is because these tankers are built in the states and are considered 'Jones Act Vessels'. In order for a ship to trade between two US ports its keel must be laid in the US. Tankers that are on runs like this are almost like liners. They tend to be on long term charter with an oil company. For example when I ran on the West Coast my ship was chartered to Tesoro and we carried product for Tesoro. We knew what ports we'd be going to for about two months ahead of time. There are a lot more delays associated with tankers so we couldn't bank on the exact day but for the most part we knew when they'd want us there.
While tankers in the states don't usually tramp around it is fairly common in the foreign fleet. It's called the spot market. Tankers will often time anchor until prices are just right then you'll see five tankers leave the anchorage at the same time. I witnessed this a lot in Fujairah, UAE. Sometimes tankers would anchor there for over a month until their operators could find a cargo for them.
The tanker I'm on now is not a Jones Act Vessel which means we can never trade stateside. I am as close to a tramp ship as a US Flagged tanker will probably ever be.
When operators pick up a contract for their vessel it is called a charter or a charter party. The person who owns the cargo - or who has arranged for the cargo to be moved is called the charterer. There are a different types of charters but I've only dealt with three: voyage charters, time charters and bareboat charters. A voyage charter is exactly that - only good for one voyage - pick up cargo here and take it there - then you're done - this makes you a tramper. A time charter is good for a specified amount of time - in that time period you will move whatever they tell you to but, you'll probably receive a schedule. A bareboat charter means that the charterer receives just that a bare boat. They will find the crew and they will operate it. I've been on ships that have had the company do very complicated things like bareboat chartering the ship out - the bareboat operator will then charter it back to the company for technical management. You are essentially being operated by the original company but the in between company provides crewing and payroll services. Complicated, right?!
Operating overseas we stay busy with a mixture of time and voyage charters. We very rarely receive a time charter that is more than 75-90 days long (when I was chartered for Tesoro they were much longer time charters). Lots of times our time charter will be for about 30 days with about 14-21 days until the next time charter is available. To stay busy in the interim our business unit will look for voyage charters. For the most part, our time charters come from the government however; we still retain our commercial status.
This trip to Russia is courtesy of a voyage charter. Pick it up drop it off....no prob! I'm still not sure where the cargo will be dropped off.
While going to Russia and transiting the Black Sea is very exciting it's an insane amount of work. To say that it is a navigational challenge is putting it mildly. Most times, when we receive orders for a voyage charter I don't have the charts. We will order the chart locally and then I will scramble around creating a voyage plan.
For this specific trip the Captain received a phone call at 1800 saying proceed to Russia. He woke me up at 1815 and by 1830 we were underway. Needless to say, it is almost impossible to dot your i's and cross your t's. I've managed to stay 24 hours ahead of the ship on the charts but just by the hairs on my chinny chin chin.
On that note....I need to go dot some i's and cross some t's.