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Liability of the freight forwarder on Abandoned Cargo

Liability of the freight forwarder on Abandoned Cargo – a case study based on below question from a reader, Rehan..

“Fwdr booking 10 containers for Shipper ABC which is consigned to XYZ and now the consignee not taking delivery at destination… Forwarder received the freight n released the B/L to shipper.. now is the forwarder liable or responsible for consignee not taking delivery at destination..”

A good question Rehan, one that is faced by many freight forwarders around the world..
You have however not clarified whether the bill of lading that you are talking about is a House Bill of Lading (HBL) issued by the Freight Forwarder or a Master Bill of Lading (MBL) issued by the carrier..

The answer to this question varies depending on which bill of lading you are talking about and as we have already seen, there is a distinct difference between Master Bill of Lading and House Bill of Lading..

Liability of a freight forwarder on abandoned cargoBut before that, lets go to the very beginning as to HOW and in WHAT CAPACITY you made this booking with the shipping line..

  • If you booked it “as agents” of the shipper and this fact was clearly made known to the shipping line – either via their booking form or clearly indicated on an email or covered via your STC (Standard Trading Conditions), then you will have limited to no liability.. In such cases, if required, you can invoke your Liability Insurance cover with an insurance and risk management provider such as TT Club (you do have one right..??)..
  • If however, you booked it under your own name or failed to mention the fact that you are acting in the capacity of an agent, then you might have some answering to do..

As mentioned above, what bill of lading was issued to the customer and how it was issued also plays a vital part in this case..

Scenario 1 – You have issued a HBL to the shipper, consigned to a direct consignee who hasn’t cleared the shipment

In this case, since you have issued a HBL, there must be a corresponding back to back MBL.. It is most likely that on the MBL your company would be shown as the “Shipper” and your agents overseas would be shown as the “Consignee” and/or “Notify”..

Image for MBL and HBLIn cases of abandoned cargo the carrier will pursue the entity listed as the shipper on their bill of lading being the original party to the contract and in the case of a MBL issued as above, that party would be you and since you have acted as a principal and not as an agent, the shipping line will be well within their rights to place a claim on you..

Scenario 2 – You have issued a MBL to the shipper, consigned to a direct consignee who hasn’t cleared the shipment

In this case, since the document is not in your name and also presuming you booked the cargo “as agents” then you will have limited to no liability..

If you are a member of a Forwarding Association in your country, then those associations would have created STC’s for the use of their members and generally since such STC’s would be localized, this should cover your liabilities if any sufficiently..

While we have had a discussion about “Can anyone become a Freight Forwarder” already on this blog, any serious freight forwarder should at the very least have

  • A comprehensive Liability Cover and Risk management
  • A properly incorporated STC in order to manage the risks and limit exposure

to cover themselves sufficiently before embarking on the business of freight forwarding..

You can read some useful articles regarding STC below..

  • TT Talk – Brief reprise on Standard Trading Conditions (STCs)
  • TT Talk – Are your standard trading conditions reasonable?

Would be interested to hear your thoughts on the liability of a freight forwarder in the case of Abandoned cargoes.. Feel free to comment using the comment form below..

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Hariesh Manaadiar
Hariesh Manaadiar
I am Hariesh Manaadiar, the Founder of Shipping and Freight Resource.. I have been in the dynamic shipping and freight industry for over three decades and have worked in several sectors.. I share my experiences and knowledge of the industry through this blog for those looking for help in the industry.. Stay subscribed for more free useful content about shipping, freight, maritime, logistics, supply chain and trade..


  1. Hello. A shipping agent has destroyed my goods without my consent after 60 days of arrival at port, and has billed me for destruction. Trading Standards declared the goods as non conforming, but we could have modified the goods to suit as Trading Standards advised, yet we wasn’t given the opportunity. Does the shipper have the right to do this? Please advise…thanks.

  2. Greting ALL
    PROVIDED THAT IN THE SHIPMENT BOOKED WITH NVOOC my name is shown as forwarding agent
    previously i cleared an import container with xxxshipping lines that was destroyed unfit for humans consumption demurage/detention fee was not pay by importer and the shipping lines want me to pay as clearing agent

    please advise

  3. Hello, Question, I have a 8 containers (40HC) that arrived to Veracruz port in Mexico. Which were never retrieved, there have now been abandoned and containers are now back in circulation. What can we expect as the shipper of the goods. Is there any repercussions we will face due to this. Or will the Consignee have any issues with this in the future.

  4. I have a different case here

    We have a shipment which is unclaimed, this shipment is to order and under L/C, cnee is shown as notify

    The preadvise for the cnee is lost i am asking how come cnee is not informed about his shipment is that logic that the preadivse is the only information that cnee receive in this case

    I have asked number of people, they have advised me that this is impossible

    What about your opinion

    I need your support may be i get fired about this
    Pls help

  5. Dear all,
    Regarding to abandonment cargoes while we are middle man ( Forwarding agents for shipper), we are also claimed by the shipping line due to overdue charges that the cargoes have been long staying.
    How to void such liabilities and void payment of charges since we cant trace shipper anymore.

  6. Good day,

    As a freight forwarder one of our container is on the destination port for around 60 Days as our consignee failed to clear it .Now we got a mail from carrier that we are liable for the charges. As we spoke with the shipper he told it need to be abondad.As this shipment is freight prepaid we got the payment and released the BL.Please advise how to proceed further


  7. Good Day all
    I cleared to customs a 1×20″dry container of foodstuffs that customs decided to destroyed the contents due to worms infestations
    shipment lines now holding me as a customs clearing agent for Deumeurage detention charges amounted a fortune but i,m not a party(SHIPPER/CONSIGNEE) on the MBL but simply a customs clearing agent
    now can i still use the same shipping lines for my future shipments? fearing to get my goods seized as LIEN


    • Hi Felix, did you book this cargo that you cleared with worms..?? Shipping line can hold you only if you at least book the cargo, but depending on how you booked the cargo or whether you booked it as an agent, shipping line cannot hold you liable if you are not a party to the bill.. But, there could be cases where the shipping line can hold your other cargo as lien..

  8. I’m faced with a similar situation with a 40’RH container of semi husk coconut sent from Colombo to Jabel Ali where cnee does not present themselves for delivery.

    The port/liner demurrage, reefer plug-in charges etc are mounting daily & the carriers position in this regard is that we as the sub-agent should take liability of all charges in case of auctioning or destroying the container load.

    Shippers position in this regard is that considering the extremely high charges of re-importation to colombo, they too have abandoned the goods & disclaims any liability of further payment in this regard.

    Similar Asfar’s case, this shipment too was effected over a liner B/L where no involvement of sub-agent’s or a House B/L is involved & the only solution I see is auctioning the cargo. But my worry sir, is that carrier still insist that we pay demurrage charges prior to considering auctioning of these goods, but from what I’ve heard, if auctioned, carrier will recover their costs indefinitely from the bidder & not by the carrier agent. Appreciate some professional advise as to how to settle this matter.

  9. Surely under the MBL the shipping line would be entitled to a lien on the abandoned cargo? By not using this right the shipping line is being lazy and simply profiteering.

    • Hi James, while the shipping line maybe entitled to a lien on the cargo, getting back any monies on a cargo that is abandoned is not quite so easy as there are several costs and first and foremost cost recovery generally would be that of the state, port, customs etc and only then the rest.. That could also be a factor..

      As the saying goes “The agent’s neck is the softest”..

  10. dear Sir,
    we have send one container from jebel ali to colombo in the month of december 2014 but consignee has not yet approached the shipping line to take delivery order, now the shipping line is saying that we have have to settel all the cost.
    for your kind information we are freight forwarding company and we have not issued house bill of lading and in master bill of lading its actual shipper and actual consignee.
    you reply in this regard will be highly appreciated.
    thank you
    warm regards,

    • Dear Asfar
      As far as we know that in Colombo port, Sri Lanka, there is special rule for long staying containers. About over 45 days and we – as the carriers, the cnee , any party cant involve and the shipment will be held by port Authority.
      We used to have the same case in 2012 and shpr must bear all extra charges to the shipping line.

  11. Very important point and very good article !
    As per Brazilian rules , ctr is not consider a packing but part of the vessel, so the ff can unload the ctr before goods is consider abandoned it happens after 90 days withouth clearance, but the unloading can be done before this period, this is a way to save huge demurrages ammounts.

    • Hi Marcello,
      I’m Brazilian and didn’t know about this information “ctr is not consider a packing but part of the vessel, so the ff can unload the ctr before goods is consider abandoned it happens after 90 days withouth clearance”.
      I have one doubt…how can the FF unload the CTN without clearance it?…I mean, CTN will be at “primary zone” in the POD at this time. And, what happens to the cargo (goods) in this case?


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