Carrier refuses to show commercial information on the bill of lading

Caution, long but essential readHelp, carrier refuses to show commercial information relating to the cargo on the bill of lading”

This is a regular complaint one hears from shippers and also the basis of many arguments between shippers, their agents, freight forwarders, clearing agents, brokers and shipping lines because many customers maintain a view that the carrier is being pedantic about this..

Some of the commercial information that the customers want to show on the bill of lading include but not limited to:

  1. Value of the cargo – the most important requirement ;
  2. Incoterms® ;
  3. Terms and conditions of the sale (sales contracts) ;
  4. References to letter of credit information such as LC Number, shipment date ;
  5. Origin of the goods

 

Why does a shipper need all this commercial information on the bill of lading..??

Although there is no straight answer to the reason for this, my personal opinion is that the shippers may be forced to show this commercial information on the bill of lading due to the requirements thurst upon them by documentary credits like the Letter of Credit..

You will find that the customers who request commercial information to be shown on the bill of lading usually will be taking a negotiable bill from the shipping line..


A negotiable bill may have a Letter of Credit behind it, in which the buyer or the issuing bank (the buyer’s bank) may set some requirements like below..

For the buyer, this information could represent a means to ensure that the goods ordered matches the goods shipped and declared on the bill of lading..

After all, the bill of lading is the only document that has all the details linking the cargo, the container, mode of transport (ship name/voyage etc).. All in one place..

Many people in the trade are used to bill of lading drafts going back and forth between shipping line, shipper and agent because there was a word or punctuation missing in the final draft..

Sometimes, Nominated Banks may also be pedantic about following the requirements of the LC because if the requirements are not followed 100%, it could mean a delay in the negotiation process with the issuing bank and buyer which could stall payments..

 

Why do carrier refuse to show commercial information on the bill of lading..??

While the above information may be important to a buyer or a seller on the basis of their contract of sale or LC, there is a popular misconception that a bill of lading is a contract of sale between the buyer and seller..

It must be remembered at all times that the bill of lading is only a transport document that fulfils among others, the role of being an “evidence of the contract of carriage” and is NOT a contract of sale between the buyer and seller..

Therefore, any information shown on the bill of lading should relate only to the contract of carriage between the shipper and the carrier and nothing related to the terms of sale between the buyer and the seller..

In fact, the fact that the shipper on the bill of lading need not even be the original seller of the cargo and the shipper need not even be from the same country as the country of export shows how much emphasis a bill of lading places on the relationship between the actual buyer and seller or the parties actually entering the contract of sale..

carrier refuses to show commercial and sales information on the bill of lading

The main reason that the carriers do not encourage requests from shippers to show commercial and sale-related information on the bill of lading is LIABILITY..

The bill of lading as a transport document is subject to certain terms and conditions and showing such information may prejudice the carrier’s right to limit its liability for cargo loss or damage..

Similar to cargo insurance taken by a seller or buyer for their cargo, a carrier also has their own insurance covers to cover carriage liabilities..

These insurance policies may only cover (among other things) the carrier’s assets, their responsibilities and liabilities, but not the cargo or its value..

If you look at the terms and conditions of a bill of lading you will see some clauses limiting the liability of the carrier

Basis of Compensation
Without prejudice to any applicable limitation of liability in accordance with the provision set forth in sub-clause 6 hereof, the basis of compensation shall be limited to the sound value of the goods so damaged or lost (excluding insurance) and the freight on a pro-rata basis, if paid. In no circumstance whatsoever, the carrier shall be responsible for indirect damage, loss of profit or consequential damage.

If Carrier will nevertheless be considered liable for loss or damage resulting from delay, such liability shall not exceed three (3) times the Freight.

COGSA limitation to US carriage
When the Carriage is to or from the United States of America as stipulated in Clause 6.1, and unless the nature and value of the Goods is declared on the face of the Bill of Lading in the condition set out in Clause 8.2, the Carrier’s limitation of liability in respect of the Goods, shall not exceed US$ 500.00 per container, package, bundle, pallet, or other unit, or when the Goods are not shipped per container, package, bundle, pallet or other unit, US$ 500.00 per customary freight units.

In some cases, showing such information on the bill of lading may lead to unnecessary squabbles between the customer and carrier..

For example, let’s say the Incoterms® DDU 123, Gangnam-gu between the buyer and seller is included in the body of the bill of lading..

The receiver could argue with the carrier, that their term is DDU 123, Gangnam-gu and insist that the carrier clear and deliver the goods to Gagnam-gu even if the bill of lading may only be a port-to-port bill of lading consigned to Busan and not a combined transport bill of lading showing a place of delivery..

The Incoterms® does not affect the contract of carriage entered into between the shipper and the carrier and therefore the carrier is not obliged to accept the consignee’s argument which may be right in terms of the sales contract..

 

Does the customer have the option to show cargo value on the bill of lading..??

Of course, the client has an option and that is an Ad-Valorem Bill of lading..

Ad valorem is Latin for “to the value”.. An Ad Valorem bill of lading is a bill of lading which shows the value of the goods covered by the bill of lading..

Many P&I clubs view an Ad Valorem bill of lading as a ruse to override the package/unit limitation set out in Article IV Rule 5(a) of the Hague or the Hague Visby Rules (the Rules) because by accepting to specify the value of the cargo in the bill of lading, the carrier may be waiving their rights to limit the amount of damages recoverable by a cargo claimant..

However, the carrier’s bills of lading also have the relevant terms and conditions to cover the issue of liability for Ad Valorem bills of lading..

For example, carrier bills of lading display below in terms of Ad Valorem bills of lading :

The Merchant agrees and acknowledges that the Carrier has no knowledge of the value of the Goods. Higher compensation than that provided for in this Bill of Lading may be claimed only when, with the written confirmation of the Carrier, the value of the Goods declared by the Shipper upon delivery to the Carrier has been stated by the Carrier in the box marked “Declared Value” on the front of this Bill of Lading and ad valorem charges paid. In that case, the amount of the Declared Value shall be substituted for the limits provided in this Bill of Lading. Any partial loss or damage shall be adjusted pro rata on the basis of such Declared Value.

So there is an option for the customer to show the cargo value on the bill of lading but if this requirement is mandatory for the shipment, then the customer should advise the carrier of this requirement before even booking the cargo with the carrier..

The carrier may issue an Ad Valorem bill of lading subject to the customer paying additional freight and/or premium to cover the additional liability that the carrier is taking..

But there could be a stumbling block for carriers in the form of the International Group Pooling Agreement..

The International Group Pooling Agreement is an agreement by The International Group of P&I Clubs, a grouping of thirteen P&I Clubs which provide marine liability cover (protection and indemnity) for approximately 90% of the world’s ocean-going tonnage.. 

This agreement excludes cover in cases where due to an ad valorem declaration, the value of the goods declared exceeds the figure of the normal $2,500 per unit, piece or package..

This means where cargo is carried under an Ad Valorem bill of lading and the value per unit piece or package stated is in excess of US$2,500 the recovery shall be limited to US$2,500 per unit piece or package or the limitation per unit, piece or package specified in the Hague-Visby Rules whichever may be higher..

Carriers, therefore, may choose to include below clause in the bill of lading to cover themselves where they may be “forced” to accept customers requests due to commercial considerations

the reference to the letter of credit and/or the import license and/or invoice in this contract of carriage is included solely at the request of the merchant for his convenience and to meet his commercial requirements. The carrier does not warrant the accuracy of this information, which is not a declaration of value and in no way affects the carrier’s liability under this contract of carriage. The merchant acknowledges that the value of the goods is unknown to the carrier.

However, as per Standard Club, “a reference to an L/C in a bill of lading does not make a bill of lading ad valorem – and a carrier need therefore fear no loss of its limitation and that clubs need not deprive cover from carriers issuing such bills of lading.

 

Conclusion

In summary, the issue of an ‘Ad Valorem’ Bill of Lading and inclusion of certain commercial information in the bill of lading increases the carrier’s potential legal liability more than what they are covered for under the contract of carriage in the bill of lading like the Hague, Hague-Visby Rules and Hamburg Rules..

Therefore, carriers may be loathe to display commercial information relating to the cargo on the bill of lading..

 

Whether you are a carrier or customer, what has been your experience with regards to this..?? Share your experiences/thoughts in the comments..

 

Article republished after updating some information to reflect current market practices..

 

*** End of Article ***

46 thoughts on “Carrier refuses to show commercial information on the bill of lading”

  1. The requirement of the details of the Bill of Lading issued, as per the Hague Rules or Hague Visby, in the case of conventional cargo, is, besides the name of the carrier, shippers, consignees/notified party etc, as follows:

    – Number of packages of cargo,, if not in bulk.
    – Descriptions of the cargo,
    – Weight/Measurement
    – Freight (Lump-sum/per weight/measurement) etc.)
    – Any other information relating to the shipment, except valuation of goods, letter of Credit etc)

    Normally, the shipper/exporter/supplier etc, will not ship the cargo without the receipt of Letter of Credit (L/C), stating, besides other related information under incoterms (latest edition) , L/C number, valuation.

    The information on L/C is strictly confidential between the seller/buyer, besides banker/Insurance company.

    If there is any claim of loss of/damage to cargo for the carrier, the claimant will provide the necessary information, including the valuation of the cargo, to support the claim.

    Reply
    • Dear Hariesh,
      Very interesting topic indeed, already was when first published!
      A few things need to be pointed out to make the matter clearer for some parties:
      1) we’re talking original BL only as only they act as a title of good (unlike express/seaway bills)
      2) OBL for containerized goods cannot contain the same info than for BB or bare cargo, and this has an obvious effect on the carrier’s liability
      3) in my experience (in France), many shippers just don’t understand that their requirement are related to the cargo while the BL content is related to the transportation of the cargo (two very different sets of contracts and obligations)
      4) As the proof of the contract of transport, the BL should reflect the actual route (and one point to one point, of course) and services provided by the carrier, even though we rely on the shipper to tell us what is inside the container. But as it was duly pointed out by some, liability is the key. I don’t want the carrier having to compensate a shipper with the actual value of the cargo THEY SAID were in the container in case of damage, I think that’s quite easy to understand.

      Lastly, I remember a story I heard while I was Customer Service Manager with Hanjin Shipping (those were the days!): One day, we received an urgent internal mail from HO ordering ALL offices to stop inserting LC numbers in the BL bodies starting NOW!! Something we were frequently requested and obliged quite easily.
      When I wanted to understand why, I was told that the line had lost a case before a HKG court where the shipper claimed that the LC in the BL was refering to a contract value, hence the cargo damages were to be compensated in full. Our top brass in Seoul must have hit the roof.
      In short, for the HKG judges, the LC number was considered to be an indirect ad valorem clause (which was clearly forbidden in our SOPs)… I believe there was an appeal or something because it only lasted a few weeks.
      This shows that all carriers have also proper internal rules that are reflecting their own business experience.

      Cheers

  2. The shipper/exporter/beneficiary does NOT need details of the goods shown on the B/L. If there is an LC involved then beneficiaries need to educate themselves and not guess at these things. UCP600 article 14e states: “In documents other than the commercial invoice, the description of the goods, services or performance, if
    stated, may be in general terms not conflicting with their description in the credit.”

    The carriers are perfectly within their rights to refuse to show commercial details on their B/Ls.

    Reply
  3. What is the industry standard documentation regarding cargo destination.
    Destination : ONE OR MORE SAFE PORT(S) INDIA
    Is it a requirement to have the destination mentioned on the BL?

    Reply
  4. Hi! In my case carrier refuse to issue OBL to shipper on demand due to CONSIGNEE non-payment of “OLD” account in POD carrier office. Is it Legal? Should consignee correctly charge of “DETENTION” as a consequence?

    Reply
  5. After reading all the below arguments, I am still unable to understand the reason why shipping line refuses to add cargo value / contract value on BL.
    How does that effects their business?

    Reply
  6. on L/C, CFR Chittagong sea port, Bangladesh or CFR Chittagong, Bangladesh which one is correct to be used as per Incoterms 2010. Very often i’m facing this problem. Please help me.

    Reply
  7. It is correct. The Bill of Lading is a Document of Title to the Goods and a Contract between the Shipper and The Carrier. It can only go as far as Stating the cargo being shipped and shipping terms and conditions relating to the shipper and the carrier.

    Other detail such as:Value of the cargo, Incoterms, Terms and conditions of the sale (sales contracts), Certifying letter of credit information, Origin of the goods, etc. will be specified in the export sales contract and or Commercial Invoice which are between the Seller and the Buyer.

    So the carrier as no obligation to specify the above on the Bill of Lading

    Reply
  8. I have a question – it might be slightly off topic, inspired by something in the article, but I couldn’t find an article which addresses this specifically (maybe you can refer me). I am currently working on a degree in International commerce (in France). I have noticed that the incoterm CIF (or CFR) is used often in cases such as the example you used in this article. But I was taught that those two terms do not include post delivery…. so the inland location of delivery cannot coincide with those particular incoterms! Only with CIP (or CPT) in the case of a full container. Is this mistaken? Is there just a wide berth between theory and practice on that particular issue?

    Reply
    • Hello Leah, pardon the long delay in responding to this.. I didn’t realise I missed this question.. You are absolutely right.. This was a mistake on my part where I typed CIF Pretoria instead of CIP Pretoria..

  9. DEar All,
    If the shipment is covered by a Letter of Credit, I advise to write on the B/L not more than what the L/C requires. The more you write on the B/L, the higher the risks that the bank find typos or mistakes on it. The consequences would be much more paper work and eventually causing delay to the beneficiary to cash the payment.
    Luciano Ferreira

    Reply
  10. Thanks for this piece of writing, but I do have a question:

    I guess that mentioning the value of cargo, in particular, might be of great importance in some cases, especially if there is a voyage charter party that DOES NOT limit the carrier’s liability to the amount of the freight. This will make the carrier highly alert while stowing the cargo not to cause any damage that might cost him the cargo “value”.

    What do you think?

    Reply
  11. Extremely interesting since I am currently studying Freight Forwarding and this has made it clear what the Bill of Lading needs to show.

    Reply
  12. Hi Hariesh
    First Client must read Terms n C conditions of Carriers B/L (on reverse of CBL)

    The b/l a legal tender is primarily a receipt / contract of carriage / delivery note covering full cargo description as detailed in Shipping Instruction submitted by Client .

    A document covering an instruction from Shipper / Agent to Carrier / Agent to ship cargo / containers from POL to POD. Perhaps an inland Port / Destination on a thru b/l if Carrier offers intermodal as well. An agreement between Carrier and Shipper / Agent.

    The freight invoice will recover said charges incurred by Carrier.

    Carriers docs are b/l ‘ freight invoice and manifest .

    They do also have the responsibility of ensuring that requirements by Customs and Port Authorities are duly met and submitted to Carrier prior to release of OBL.

    Sounds harsh but if LC is problem with Carrier then change it . Client must ensure LC drawn up without impeding Carrier or ANO not directly linked with Cargo Commercial.

    The B/L is a Carrier document and details will be at Carrier’s discretion.

    Other than that , thanks to BC for covering special requirements . (Hallo BC)

    CA

    Reply
  13. Hi Hariesh,

    1 Entering the VALUE of the goods on the Bill Of Lading is an entitlement under the Bill of Lading Clauses ( Hague Rules and its derivations ) BUT if the value is declared , the Bill becomes a VALUE Bill of Lading and the Carrier may , at its discretion , charge a very much higher freight rate based on this value and the Carriers perceived additional liability under their P&I Club rules – I would suggest in such a case that the matter is first discussed with the P&I club to determine the additional freight amount.

    This was very common in the ” old days ” when it was normal to carry cargoes such as gold bullion by sea. This may today relate to very high value cargoes such as specialised computer or medical equipment etc whose value may run into many millions of rand/U$

    For other clauses such as country of origin , INCO Terms etc , If there is space of course, these may be included in the BZODY of the Bill only and covered by the line by a stamp declaring that the particulars in the body of the bill are supplied for information only by the shipper and NO Liability at all in relation to these shall attach to the carrier (before having this stamp made however – suggest run it past your legal advisers) .

    In general though , I would agree that too much unnecessary information on any document is messy and will tend to hinder rather than help matters in case of disputes

    Reply
  14. Dear Sir,

    Very good topic. Expect more details about this topic.

    What would happen if we show the cargo value on BL? Is there any connection to ocean freight, if we do so ?

    Further, I think, if we show the “Place of delivery” on BL as Durban, consignee can not argue to deliver the cargo at CIF Pretoria.
    Please advise.

    Reply
  15. I think on issue of the VALUE of the cargo…. in the bill of lading there is a standard liability which sometimes USD500.00 per bl, unless there is an express indication of the value of goods in the bl…

    Reply
  16. Very Good article once again and as usual. This is a problem that is always faced by the shipping companies because, as rightly pointed out, of the desire of the Merchant to cramp as much information as possible on the bill of lading.

    Reply
  17. I have been in import-export business for over 50 years and already know all the above points.
    What I have never been able to understand is the bank officers who “pass” such stupid clauses in the letters of credit.
    The importers who open the L/Cs might be educated or uneducated. But, BANK OFFICERS??? Aren’t they supposed to be well educated???
    Can anybody tell me because I have never been able to figure out their thinking….

    Reply
    • Hi Chandru, good question.. The traditional method of trade, its documentary requirements and practices have not changed or kept pace with the innovations and progress in the industry.. But on the other hand, people are also scared of taking liability and therefore want to make sure they are over protected and hence mention many such clauses on the L/C..

      While we know that banks don’t verify if cargo is actually loaded on a ship, they should be able to check on how the documentary requirements on an L/C could be made easier..

      Any bankers out there who can maybe explain..??

  18. If a carrier steals valuable about 100m consignment and ready to pay nominal carrier liability, how can one overcome the issue???

    Reply
  19. Hi as a shipper we are facing regular problem with shipping liners/their agent in mentioning discharge port agent as well as contact details in BL as per LC. Shipping Line or their agent insists to accept as per pre-printed BL. Please advice…

    Reply
    • Hi Tushar, discharge port agent on the bill of lading used to be an integral and important part of the detail on the bill mainly for the convenience of being able to identify who to contact at the discharge port for release.. This information could be vital in certain countries or remote locations where communication options may not so great..

      But making this an LC requirement maybe taking it a bit too far..

  20. Thank you for clearing this up for me in writing. I had the same argument with out Finance Department where they insist that the LC number is reflected on all documents and even our bank RMB agreed that we can force them to do that.

    Nobody would believe me that it is not an issue you can force. Needless to say, nobody would believe me when I said it is almost like forcing our government to put our name and address onto our car licence which is put on your windscreen??

    I find your emails very informative! Especially when I can actually show my arguments in writing .

    Thanks you very much.

    Reply
  21. Yet another useful article, thanks. Indeed, this is a common difficulty encountered in shipping. A case I can share from my experience is with temperature controlled cargo in reefer containers and the inclusion of temperature recorders.

    We included the temperture recorder as part of the listed contents of the reefer container. At one point, one office of a shipping line refused to allow such inclusion on the BL. We made a case that other offices of the same shipping line had no qualms about it. They still refused so we went to the head office and were able to agree on a solution.

    It would be listed so long as we did not include the serial number of the recorder in the description. My take on such requirement was that they feared a lawsuit from us in case of a malfunction and without the serial number, the shipping line could have more arguments in their defense.

    We need to have traceability of the temperature all along the supply chain; we’re not in the business of suing shipping lines.

    Another case –which we have yet to solve– is with Ecuador and raw materials imported to be transformed and the resultiing products be re-exported.

    Ecuadorean customs authority insists that this ‘transformation clause’ be listed on the BL covering the import of raw materials. As can be expected, this is confusing for the shipping line as it makes no sense to them. And, to make matters worse, it has to be in Spanish language.

    We have engaged in discussions with the Ecuadorean importers and authorities but to no avail. They’ve yet to comprehend the true function or purpose of the BL and their lame excuse is that others can do it, why can’t you?

    Reply
    • Thank you for your continued support and contribution Carlos.. Thank you also for the interesting case study, especially the Ecuadorean conundrum.. I guess when the government authorities insist on something and the carrier doesn’t want to oblige the client, then they are caught between a rock and a hard place.. 🙂

  22. Letter’s of credit are still a factor here. In many cases forwarder cargo receipts, NVOCC bills of lading are not acceptable under (as written) and only Carrier direct OBLS are allowed.

    Consignment and related L/C information is listed on negotiable bills of lading at this point and are part of what the banks refer to as “continuity” throughout the banking documents.

    Other than consignment information the rest of what is in a L/C could be pushed to another supporting document tot he LC. Something to take into account keeping in mind at the same time that many shipper’s or even importer’s do not understand.

    I do agree that with the exception of the LC on direct carrier moves that limited facts as you’ve outlined should be adhered too. NVOCC etc are more flexible

    Reply
    • Hi Lallensack, each carrier or other entities such as a freight forwarder or NVOCC all have their own methods of dealing with this issue.. But in general, yes NVOCCs seem to be more flexible when showing information the bill of lading, but one needs to be prudent in ensuring that there are proper insurance and liability covers in place before doing so..

  23. Very informative , thanks for covering these critical issues which normally arises , and at times the response is its not our policy which puts off the customer , but if well explained as above , it helps to understand liabilities of all parties involved

    Reply
  24. In this instance, the person that is arranging the letter of credit needs to give the bank and customer specific instructions for the LC. Once the LC comes back from the bank, after you give them instructions, the LC needs to be audited that it has been drafted correctly, according to LC instructions. If the LC has not been drafted correctly by the foreign bank, refuse it until it is correct. The OBL is not the place for these items. Your BL instructions on the LC should say, “Full Set Clean On Board Bill of Lading” . “3 Originals, 3 Non Negotiables Non-Rated is okay.

    Reply
    • It’s more than 10 years that I’ve been busy doing commercial correspondence and such jobs for some trading companies in Iran but have not encountered such a case since the buyers are not willing their financial details shown in the B/L as they believe that the B/L is just a transport document. But I admit that Iran’s importation regulations is different from the whole world and the government is just lurking to get more importation taxes by any means.

    • Try to tell Sales that you wish to amend or refuse an LC. That is always an interesting conversation. If the requirements cannot be accepted by the Seller, this is not so hard. If it requires documentation (whether from Supply Chain people or a bank), Sales does not understand and Corporate may support them.

      Has anyone else been forced to accept an LC that was almost surely going to be in discrepancy at banking (due to documentation requirements)?

Share your views here


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share