Credits –

International trade dates back to centuries and has often been seen as a
driving force to economic, social and political stability. It significantly contributes
to the gross domestic product of nations. Bill of lading is a written evidence
of a contract for the carriage and delivery of goods sent by sea for certain
freight. Typically, a shipper delivers goods to a carrier while the carrier or
his agent issues a bill of lading. The Court in B.M.Ltd.v.WoermannLine defined a bill
of Lading as
written document signed on behalf of the owner of the ship, in which goods are
embarked, acknowledging the receipt of the goods and undertaking to deliver
them at the end of the voyage, subject to such conditions as may be mentioned
in the bill of lading. The bill of lading is therefore a written contract
between those who are expressed to be parties to it”
Types of Bill of Lading

Negotiable and
Straight Bill of Lading

bill of lading is negotiable when it is made out to the bearer and can be
passed hand to hand just like cash.
Shipped and Received
for Shipment Bills
shipped bill of lading is one which states that the goods have actually been
shipped on board. The received for shipment bill of lading is usually issued
when the carrier receives goods into its custody prior to shipment.
Clean Bill of Lading
and Claused Bill of Lading
bill of lading is said to be clean when it qualifies the goods in good order
and condition on receipt by the carrier. A bill is claused when it is annotated
to show that the goods carried are not in apparent good order and condition
(bad condition). Where a document is claused, such document may be rejected by
the buyer.

•Through Bills of Lading
is usually used when the carriage of goods is to be undertaken by two or more
bill of lading is a significant document in international sales especially to
the buyer. The bill of lading serves the following functions.
Bill of Lading as a Receipt
Court in Ogwuru v.Co-op bank of E/N Ltd. stated that it serves as a receipt for
goods. A bill of lading is evidence of the fact stated in it which means that a
shipped bill is evidence that such goods have been conveyed and such was
shipped on the date of shipment stated on the bill. Its relevance as an
evidential device becomes expedient when the carrier has not delivered what was
shipped by the seller. When there is a dispute as regards the quantity of goods
or condition of goods, the bill of lading, (pursuant to Article 3 rule 4)
becomes a prima facie evidence that the goods where shipped in the conditions
stated on the bill of lading. Such evidence becomes conclusive .
Bill of Lading as a Document of Title
A document of title is a document that allows the holder to deal with the goods
like he is the owner of such goods. The concept of a bill of lading as a
document of title has been well conceptualized by Sassoon. He stated that a
bill of lading allows a buyer or his agent to obtain actual delivery of the
goods at the designated port. A lawful holder of a bill of lading can be said
to have constructive possession of the goods. While goods are in transit, the
owner of such goods can sell his goods to another person just buy delivering
the bill of lading for consideration. Thus, a lawful holder can pass the
property in goods by delivering the documents to a third party. It is pertinent
to state that a Straight Bill of Lading is not a document of title.
Bill of Lading as a Document of Credit
credit covers letter of credit transactions where the buyer’s bank provides a
letter of credit that effects the payment for the goods purchased. The seller
is comforted by substituting the credit worthiness of the bank for the
creditworthiness of the buyer. Documentary credit usually provides the seller
with a reliable mechanism of payment. The seller is assured of payment
irrespective of whatever dispute arises from the sale contract. The use of
documentary credit has become so popular that Lord Diplock stated that:
“International trade has to an increasing extent been
financed by bankers’ confirmed credits. So much so that the classic f.o.b and
c.i.f contracts of the textbook providing for cash or acceptance against
document without the intervention of the banker are now probably the exception
rather than the rule”
requirements of a bill of lading to be used for documentary credit are stated
in Article 20 UCP 600. The UCP does not expressly state any discrepancies
between a negotiable bill of lading and a non-negotiable bill of lading. Banks
will usually demand the full set of bills of lading if more than one is issued
and would reject any tender which is less than the full set.
 A typical example of this is stated as
follows; Parties will usually agree upon a contract of sale, then the buyer
will contact its bank to have a letter of credit issued with the seller as the
beneficiary. A letter of credit can either be funded by a loan or simply
debited from the buyer’s account balance if sufficient funding is available.
The issuing bank corresponds with an advising bank that is usually in the
seller’s country. The advising bank acts as the issuing bank agent in effecting
payment under the letter of credit.
 The seller then goes on to procure a contract
of carriage with a carrier in exchange for a bill of lading stating that such
goods will be delivered at the agreed destination. The bill of lading is
presented to the bank as a condition to secure final payment. The issuing bank
then returns the document to the buyer who afterwards, presents the bill of
lading to the carrier to reclaim his goods.
bill of lading has over the years become so important in documentary evidence.
The bank will only be willing to accept a clean bill of lading with other
requirements stated in Article 20 of the UCP in other to effect a documentary
form of credit in favour of the buyer.
Bill of lading as a document that gives right to sue
Section 375(1) of the Merchant Shipping Act, states that:
Every consignee of goods named in a
bill of lading, and every endorsee of a bill to whom the property in the goods
therin mentioned shall pass upon or by reason of such consignment or
endorsement shall have transferred to and vested in him all the right of suit,
and be subject to the same liabilities in respect of such goods as if the
contract contained in the bill of lading had been made with himself”
means that the right to sue is derived from acquiring the bill of lading. The
provision makes it clear that only a named consignee or where the bill is
endorsed, can have a right to sue.
The Bill of Lading as the only binding Contract of
Carriage between the Buyer and Carrier
only binding contract between the buyer who is usually the receiver of the
goods and the carrier is that which is on the bill of lading. This simply means
that terms agreed outside the bill of lading are excluded. The rationale behind
this principle is that the buyer has only a notice of those terms on the bill
of lading and subjecting him to terms outside this, will amount to a violation
of the principle of contract law. The court upheld this position in Leduc v.
Ward where the court held that the argument of the carrier – that there was no
deviation because it had been agreed between the shipper and the carrier –
didn’t bind the buyer since it was outside the bill of lading.
bill of lading has had a long history and has efficiently served the commercial
community. It is remarkably a product of ingenuity. The single purpose of
enabling negotiability and transferability has put it at advantage over every
other kind of document used for shipping. It is convenient and has been said by
Sir Anthony Lloyd to be of “Magical quality”.
use of bill of lading by the commercial and business community makes parties
feel more comfortable. Although the bill of lading is more susceptible to
fraud, it is still the most important document in a shipping document.

This Article was produced by ‘Damilola Osinuga. LL.B, LL.M, ACIArb. A Legal
Practitioner and expert in the areas of Maritime, Insurance, International
Trade and Ship Brokerage. 

Editor’s note: This article is written by Damilola Osinuga LL.B, LL.M, ACIArb and was originally posted on .