How do I know the bill of lading issued is House Bill of Lading or Master Bill of Lading..??

“How do I know the bill of lading issued is  House Bill of Lading or Master Bill of Lading..??

Is it mentioned anywhere on the bill of lading that it is a House Bill or a Master Bill” 

I really love such basic but curious questions because it rejuvenates the gray matter.. Thanks for the question Imtiaz..

First let’s examine the definitions of a few entities that will be involved in the explanation of this answer.. The term ship and vessel are used interchangeably..

  • Shipping Line : is a company engaged in the process of transporting (shipping) cargo from Point A to Point B.. When operated on established routes and schedules, the operation is known as “Liner Shipping” and when not operated on established routes and schedules the operation is known as “Tramping”.. Read Difference between a Liner shipping service and Tramp service..

WonderingA shipping line might or might not own or operate the ship that they load the cargo on.. The ship could be owned by X (known as Ship Owner) and operated by Y (known as Vessel Operator) because either X doesn’t have the capability of operating the ship but has the money to invest in it or doesn’t want the responsibility of operating it and is only interested in the revenues generated..

  • Slot Charterer : is an actual shipping line who may belong to a consortium or service but may not be operating a vessel on that service.. Instead, the slot charterer chooses to buy certain amount of “slots” (space on board a ship) from the principal vessel operators on every vessel.. These “slots” may or may not be fixed for a voyage or for the duration of the consortium.. Read also What is the difference between Slot charterer and NVOCC Operator..??
  • NVOCC Operator : is an entity that are in certain areas accorded the status of a virtual “carrier” and in certain cases accepts all liabilities of a carrier.. A NVOCC can and sometimes do own and operate their own or leased containers.. In certain countries like USA, the NVOCC operators are required to file their tariffs with the government regulatory bodies (like FMC) and create a public tariff.. A NVOCC is popularly known as a “carrier to shippers” and “shipper to carriers”.. Read also Who is an NVOCC Operator and difference between a freight forwarder and NVOCC..

Why am I giving this whole long story in response to a simple question..?? It is because all these above mentioned entities are capable of issuing their own bills of lading and the bills of lading they issue can be either a HBL or MBL depending on who is issuing it..

Now to answer your question – None of the bills of lading issued by any of the above entities will state anywhere whether it is a House Bill of Lading (abbreviated to HBL) or Master Bill of Lading (abbreviated to MBL).. Bills of lading only display whether it is a Sea-Way Bill, Combined Transport Bill of Lading or Port to Port Bill of Lading..

The most common way of distinguishing whether a bill of lading is a HBL or an MBL would be to see who is the carrier mentioned on the Bill of Lading.. You can see this either from the logo of the carrier or where the carrier signs the bill of lading..

rankingAlphaliner provides a constantly updated ranking of the 100 largest container/liner operators taking into account the fleets of virtually all container operators worldwide.. Take a look at the latest ranking of container/liner operators as updated on the 18th of August 2013..

If a bill of lading is issued by any of the lines mentioned in the list, it is safe to assume that it would be a MBL as these are liner operators and cover the majority of the worlds containerised cargo.. As far as I know and have seen, none of these liner companies issue a HBL..

What are the scenarios under which a HBL is issued and who issues them..?? :

  • HBL maybe issued by a Groupage operator – Groupage operator books an FCL with the shipping line.. Once the cargo is packed, they issue their own HBLs to their clients and collect the MBL from the shipping line..
  • HBL maybe issued by a NVOCC or Freight Forwarder who handles the cargo on behalf of their clients, who might be using them for the cost benefit they can provide as compared to a direct booking with the shipping line.. The FF issues their HBL and collects the MBL from the shipping line..
  • HBL maybe issued by a NVOCC or Freight Forwarder to also mask the identity of the actual shipper/consignee and they collect the MBL from the shipping line..

When a HBL and MBL are issued for a shipment, normally a hierarchy is followed.. When filing manifest with customs, the entity issuing the MBL (shipping line) will have to file their manifest first making reference to the different HBL’s issued under the MBL.. The manifest containing all the HBLs issued under the MBL is then filed with customs making reference to the MBL..

Also read my previous article Difference between House bill of lading & Master bill of lading  to understand the documentary differences between a HBL and MBL..

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14 thoughts on “How do I know the bill of lading issued is House Bill of Lading or Master Bill of Lading..??”

  1. Very informative forum.
    I have been on the shipper side of the business for 12 years using a nvocc to ship my cars and containers from USA to west Africa.
    Can anyone guide me through the process of applying for my own OTI licence and operate on US soil as a Ocean freight forwarder?

  2. Hi ,
    I am in Dubai, My supplier supplying from USA . I want to ship goods to Chinese Customer in mainland of china , Is it possible to hide the detail from each others , Also we deal on 30% advance & 70% after the showing the OBL Via mail ….

  3. Anivesh, a Bill of Lading is an important document in International Trade and therefore one needs to be a registered MTO in order to issue a Bill of Lading. This operation is regulated by the Government by an Act of the Parliament and enforced. In my opinion a Bill of Lading however simple cannot be issued by any entity. Will appreciate any diverse views on this matter.

    • Hi Premkumar, for the sake of our readers, can you clarify what is the ruling in India about NVOCC operators and Freight Forwarders bills of lading..?? Do they also have to register with MTO or is it only liner companies..?? What about tramp vessel operators..?? If someone wants to issue a Congen Bill of Lading, would they have to register..??

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