Brokering Ships and Relationships

Shipbrokers play a vital role in the global shipping industry as mediators between owners/ buyers and charterers/ sellers of ships. Besides solid technical knowledge, strong interpersonal skills are essential. Ms. Sophia Low, Director and Lead Shipbroker at M3 Marine has been in shipbroking for over 13 years after transitioning from a career as an offshore drilling engineer working on rigs and continues to exude passion for the profession.

Sophia Low, Director and Lead Shipbroker, M3 Marine Group

Shipbroking in Turning Tides

While many shipbrokers come into the field from affiliated professions such as research and maritime studies, Ms. Low’s transition to shipbroking from being a drilling engineer working on oil rigs was unique.

“The transition (to a shipbroking career) was not too difficult,” Ms. Low recalls. “What I learnt during my time offshore, such as the technical aspects of the rig and the understanding of how oil wells are drilled, helped me pick up the technicalities of the OSV market easily.” Instead, she identifies the building of a strong client base as a new shipbroker as her primary challenge when she first started out.  13 years on, much has changed in the industry. How then is the shipbroking team at M3 dealing with the pressure of a changing industry? According to Ms. Low, being adaptive and flexible are key. For example, many of her clients have stopped asking for hardcopy contracts, since digital signatures for invoices and contracts are now recognised under most jurisdictions.

A modern Saturation Diving Vessel, “Southern Star” which M3 Marine brokered.

M3 shipbrokers are also gearing up for digitalisation by changing how they deal with vessels and client-sourcing for new ship builds. Yet, despite receiving many enquiries, Ms. Low remarked that she has yet to meet a client bold enough to purchase a carbon neutral and fully-digitalised ship. However, Ms. Low believes the ascent in marketability of new ship builds will happen sometime in the future. Hence, she advises new shipbrokers to keep their eyes peeled for brewing developments such as the latest contracts and vessel technologies to remain ahead of the curve.

Sophia and her colleagues visiting a shipyard in Singapore, taking photos of the Vessels that are available for charter and/or sale.

A Profession Anchored in Relationships

For all the changes buffeting the industry, Ms. Low believes that shipbroking at its heart remains an “old-school” job. She explains, “The foundation of shipbroking work depends on the relationships a broker builds diligently over a long period of time.”

Therefore, even as times change, Ms. Low notes that the core methods of shipbroking are evergreen.  She shares, “With the advancement of technology, many modern shipbrokers think that they could try to be ‘Internet’ shipbrokers, and they set up websites to contact parties. But somehow that always fails.” In other words, strong people skills are a must for aspiring shipbrokers.

“This business is all about relationships,” she says. Shipbroking entails managing negotiations and balancing the desires of multiple stakeholders. For every deal taken on, Ms. Low believes it is essential for shipbrokers to exhibit “fairness and an ability to translate ‘angry’ words into convincing words.”

She elaborates further: “As an intermediary, I need to always remember that I am the middleman whose job is to ensure the best outcome for both parties.” Being a convincing mediator, Ms. Low feels, is one of the hardest parts of being a shipbroker. This is especially the case when she must ease tensions between heated parties during negotiations. It is the shipbroker’s job to put out the fire by formulating a plan that addresses the interests of everyone.

To be an outstanding shipbroker, however, one must also possess sound values. Ms. Low cites inquisitiveness, ethics, trustworthiness, and perseverance as key values that every good shipbroker should embody. The ideal broker should be inquisitive about the latest ship-related updates and keep abreast of world news. A broker with strong ethics will also naturally inspire the trust of their clients. When clients trust that a shipbroker is looking out for their interests, they will return to them for services.

Sophia and her intern onboard a lay up vessel, assisting a client in a ship inspection.

Lessons in Persistence

Stressing the importance of perseverance for a broker, Ms. Low advises, “When a deal negotiation goes downhill or when it seems like there are no suitable vessels in the market, it is essential to stay in the game and persevere a little more. You never know when the tide will turn for you.”

In fact, Ms. Low recounts her most memorable negotiation experience as a lesson of persistence.  She had spent a whole year trying to close an S&P deal. A bank had engaged Ms. Low to sell a vessel that was marked as a “distressed asset,” or an asset that is typically sold below market value.  Despite this, the bank demanded top dollar for the vessel.

The low oil price climate at the time further complicated the situation as few buyers from the offshore sector had the financial means to purchase the ship. Just when she thought she had secured a buyer, he suddenly had cold feet about the transaction, worrying that he would not be able to transport the vessel back to his own country.

Not giving up, Ms. Low made numerous phone calls to allay the concerns and fears of the stakeholders. She finally closed the deal after assuring the buyer that everything could proceed without a hitch. Indeed, perseverance does pay off!

Sophia conducting a regular safety inspection of the rig.

As an industry veteran, Ms. Low continues to demonstrate passion in her profession amid the changes that are taking place. Check out our MaritimeONE Connect Career Portal to embark on a purposeful career in maritime today!

About M3 Marine

Based in Singapore, M3 Marine Group and its subsidiaries provide a comprehensive range of offshore marine services tailored to meet the needs of the offshore marine and oil & gas industry.

With decades of relevant extensive multi-faceted experience, direct access to a vast network of operators, offshore vessel owners and shipyards and backed by a wide network of Associates in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Australasia, M3 Marine is committed to meeting the growing local and international demand for specialised marine services.


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Mr. Lars Kastrup


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Mr. Kastrup complemented his tertiary education with leadership and management training at Penn State University and The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Ms. Angeline Teo


Ms. Angeline Teo is the Managing Director and Head of Global Transportation and Offshore, Global Corporate Banking at OCBC Bank which focuses on the maritime, aviation, land & port ecosystems.
Ms. Teo has spent over three decades in maritime finance. Prior to OCBC, Ms. Teo was working at ING Bank, ABN Amro and DnB in Singapore focusing on maritime and offshore.
Ms. Teo graduated from the National University of Singapore with a degree in Business Administration.

Mr. John Martin


Mr. John Martin began his career in London in 1989 with Richards Hogg Lindley Average Adjusters, and qualified as a Fellow of the UK Association of Average Adjusters in 2000.
At RHL he worked in their offices in Australia, Taiwan and Hong Kong. In 2003 he joined Gard Hong Kong, as a claims handler. Mr. Martin also worked in Gard Japan, and in 2014 he moved to Singapore to set up the Gard Singapore office.
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Mr. Cyril Ducau


Mr. Cyril Ducau is the Chief Executive Officer of Eastern Pacific Shipping Pte Ltd, a leading shipping company headquartered in Singapore for the past 30 years.

He is also currently the Chairman of Kenon Holdings Ltd and a member of the board of directors of Gard P&I (Bermuda) Ltd. and of the Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation Limited, which was established by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore. He was previously Head of Business Development of Quantum Pacific Advisory Limited in London from 2008 to 2012 and acted as Director and Chairman of Pacific Drilling SA between 2011 and 2018.
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Mr. Ducau graduated from ESCP Europe Business School (Paris, Oxford, Berlin) and holds a Master of Science in business administration and a Diplom Kaufmann.