Implications of issuing a Clean on Board bill of lading

Many a time, shippers have asked shipping lines for “CLEAN ON BOARD” clause on a bill of lading and if the request relates to a container shipment, this might have very well been rejected by the shipping line..

Why do the shipping lines reject this..?? cob

The clause “CLEAN, ON BOARD” was initially used on break bulk vessels..

In break bulk and bulk vessels, there is a document called Mate’s Receipt..

This document has all the information pertaining to the cargo like description, number of bundles, weight, measurement etc and this note is handed over to the ship at the time of loading..

If any discrepancies are found between the actual cargo delivered and the Mate’s Receipt, the Chief Mate (after whom this receipt is named) a.k.a 1st Mate, 1st Officer, Chief Officer will check the cargo and note such discrepancies to confirm that the cargo was received in that condition..

If the cargo was found to be in good and “clean” condition, the bill of lading will be claused “CLEAN, ON BOARD”..

If the cargo was damaged in anyway or rusted etc, the Mates Receipt would be claused to show the condition of the cargo upon receipt and the bill of lading will not be claused Clean, On Board..

This was possible in the era of pre-containerisation because the ship/agents were able to physically check and verify the cargo..

However, in the case of containerised cargoes and especially FCL cargoes, the carrier/agents are not privy to the packing of the containers and the nature of the cargo as the packing is done by the client on their premises and the carrier/agent is not present at the time of packing..

The carrier relies on the information provided by the shipper in terms of the cargo, number of packages, weight and measurement..

Therefore, the container carriers do not allow the clause “Clean On Board” on the bill of lading as they don’t know the condition of the cargo in the container and will not accept liability for the same..

The carrier puts the clauses “SHIPPERS LOAD STOW AND COUNT”  (SLAC) and “SAID TO CONTAIN”  (STC) on the bill of lading to protect themselves from any claims that the shipper might place on them at a later stage, based on the above facts..

The term “Clean On Board” also does not exist as per the late Mr.Bentley Cook commenting on another article relating to this term..

Hi Hariesh , for further clarification, the term “clean on board” does not actually exist and has caused much confusion over the years by being incorrectly typed on letters of credit and misinterpreted. It actually refers to 2 conditions:
1 Clean – as defined in your article
2 On Board – which is actually a contraction of the term “Shipped on Board” – which distinguishes the condition from “received for shipment”.

Where it appears on an LC therefore it should be typed as “clean , on board ” ie there must be a comma between the 2 terms. – semantics yes but can make a big difference legally.



Customers, especially buyers, need to ensure that in container shipments, this term “Clean, On Board” is not added as per of the Letter of Credit requirements as it could unnecessarily delay the process of documentation as more often than not, there will be a discussion or argument between the shipper and carrier about showing this clause on the bill of lading..

The process of shipping and trade negotiations are evolving.. Customers and banks should also evolve with this..

Have you had any experiences brought about by the inclusion of this clause on the bill of lading..??

Article republished after critical updates

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8 thoughts on “Implications of issuing a Clean on Board bill of lading”

  1. Usually when we request a Clean on Board, the shipping company signs the three original where it says “carrier”. The Deutsche Bank is sending the documents for payment on approval (letter of credit to be paid against presentation of copies only). Claiming that where the Carrier signed did not type the name of the person signing. I have never seen a bill of lading signed by the carrier where they type the name of the person signing. My issue is that the documentary credit if for US$435,000.00 and payment is being delayed.

    • Hello Rafael, I have seen this practice in the past where there used to be a rubber stamp with the name of the person signing.. I have not seen this for many years though.. In order not to delay the process maybe its best to accede to this request and for the next shipment maybe remove this requirement in the L/C..

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