Requirement of IMO Number in Bill of Lading

image for reader questionL/C requires the vessel IMO number on the B/L.

This time shipping line said they won’t accept my request as per their policy.

What should I do now? Have you got any suggestions for this issue?

Question from John Alan……………….

Let’s first see what is IMO Number..

The IMO ship identification number scheme was introduced in 1987 by the IMO through adoption of resolution A.600(15), as a measure to enhance ship safety and security..

Each ship would be assigned a permanent number for identification purposes.. That number would remain unchanged upon transfer of the ship to other flag(s) and would be inserted in the ship’s certificates.. The implementation of this system became mandatory for all ships as of 1st January 1996..

The IMO ship identification number is made of the three letters “IMO” in front of the Lloyd’s Register (LR) Number (seven digits) which becomes the IMO number..

Now that you know what an IMO number is, let’s discuss the question why some shipping lines may not clause a bill of lading with the IMO number..

One of the roles fulfilled by a bill of lading is as “an evidence of the contract of carriage” between the shipping line and merchant..

Some of the shipping lines do not allow anything other than the details of the cargo and related carriage information to be mentioned on the bill of lading.. Examples of the items that some of the shipping lines do not allow in the body of the bill of lading

  • IMO number of ship
  • Value of the cargo
  • Terms of sale between buyer and seller (example some terminology like “This shipment is bought on CIF basis” etc)
  • Details of delivery to be done to an inland destination by the receiver
  • Clauses like vessel will not call or transit via certain ports
image for vsl IMO number
Image downloaded from for representation purposes only

The reason for the shipping lines not allowing such clauses is very simple..

  1. These clauses do NOT form part of the contract of carriage between the shipping line and merchant..
  2. They do not want to expose themselves to any claims based on the endorsement of such non-related information on the bill of lading..
  3. They not party to or privy to commercial information between buyer and seller (eg : value of cargo)..
  4. Neither do they have any idea nor can they attest to the veracity of the statement(s) the merchant wants them to show on the bill of lading..

Therefore they will stick to showing the basic details of the shipment as outlined in Part 3 of my multi-part article about Parts of a Bill of Lading..

In this particular case, apart from the above mentioned reasons, the container may be transhipping at some port, in which case the IMO number of the transhipping vessel will be different to that of the vessel shown on the bill of lading and that could also be a reason that the shipping line doesn’t want to show the IMO number on the bill of lading..

A L/C is a documentary credit as agreed between the seller and the buyer via their banks and a shipping line is NOT obligated to clause their bill of lading according to the L/C with this IMO number or any other information..

So John, the choice that you have is to convince the beneficiary to accept maybe a certificate from the shipping line stating that the carrying vessel’s IMO number is such and such.. Even this certificate may be issued by the shipping line only at their discretion and not under any obligation..

An important point to note is that UCP600 (Uniform Customs and Practice) which governs the operation of letters of credit does not require/request for inclusion of IMO numbers or many other clauses that the beneficiaries force shippers to show..

If anyone has any experiences regarding the inclusion of ad-hoc/additional clauses on the body of the bill of lading, do share it..



*** End of Article ***

9 thoughts on “Requirement of IMO Number in Bill of Lading”


  1. excellent work shared by your blog, keep going on and let us know new terms related about this field.

    i would like to suggest to add current news from this feild in differnt tab.

    thank you

  2. I have solved out the request of the IMO number of the vessel by asking the shipping line a separate certificate too.
    Actually I had to push them a few times before obtaining it. Operator had to escalate the issue to someone else…but at the end they did send me a certificate showing the vessel and imo number of it.
    Hopefully, exporter and bank were fine with that.
    thnaks for your help!!

    • If the LC called for this statement on the B/L, the banks will not accept a separate certificate in lieu of this, unless the LC has been amended to this effect. This amendment should have been sought and received before shipment. However, I agree with the view that such a request is utter nonsense and merely displays the lack of knowledge of the issuing bank.

    • Thanks for your comment Laurence.. There seems to be cases where the bank is accepting these certificates instead of it being on the L/C.. There are also cases where the L/C states the requirement of this certificate, but some banks and shippers misinterpret it as a requirement on the B/L..

  3. I have seen similar requirement more commonly solved with a separate certificate from shipping line or agent outlining and confirming details required typically re vessel flag or IMO number.
    Anyway such clause are a pain and only bankers looking for penalty fees suggest such clauses inmho.


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