Any seasoned shipper would know that there are large amounts of paperwork involved in sending an ocean freight shipment. There are so many parties involved even in a simple shipment that the entire process appears daunting, especially for less-frequent or new shippers.
The most important piece of document in shipping is by far the Bill of Lading. Of all the documents involved in shipping, if you were to safeguard just one, that would be the Bill of Lading.
Evidence of Contract of Carriage - The Bill of Lading represents the evidence of contract of carriage between the shipping carrier and shipper and acts as an agreement to transport the freight goods according to the conditions stated on the contract.
Receipt of Goods - As a receipt of goods, the Bill of Lading acts as proof that the carrier has received the goods in good order and condition as it was handed over by the shipper. In this case, it is usually issued upon receipt of the cargo.
Title of Good - Upon arrival at destination, the Bill of Lading acts as a Title of Good and needs to be presented by the consignee in order for the carrier to release the shipment. In short, without a Bill of Lading, you have no shipment.
Having said that, it is extremely important to know how to fill in a Bill of Lading properly and accurately. Mistakes, even spelling mistakes, may lead to unnecessary and easily-avoidable hold ups and exorbitant delay costs. There may be more than 30 fields to fill out in any Bill of Lading, and the accuracy of the information in one field is just as important as the next. It’s tempting to rush through the document and overlook it. But this makes you vulnerable to the problems that will come your way as inconsistencies and inaccuracies are rarely ever tolerated. Our advice is to get yourself familiar with this important document and know it as well as the back of your palm.
Let’s take a look at the the top 5 things to look out for when filling in a Bill of Lading.
Make sure that all required fields have been completed properly and as accurately and legibly as possible. Plan ahead and save time by giving the Bill of Lading a read as soon as you can so it gives you time to enquire and obtain all the information you need should you have to. This ensures information accuracy and allows you to avoid what could potentially be costly errors. If you’re unsure of what certain fields are asking for, make sure to check with your freight forwarder.
It’s not only important to make sure to fill in all required fields, but also to double check the accuracy of the information on the draft Bill of Lading that carrier and/or NVOCC typically will provide for your approval. Ensure that every single piece of detail is accurate - not only what you’ve filled in but what was pre-filled by the carrier and/or NVOCC. Check that your container and seal number are a match, and that you’ve counted and properly listed the correct number of pieces you’re shipping. More importantly, verify that the shipper, consignee, and notify party fields are filled in correctly. Remember to ensure that it shows the origin and final destination that was agreed upon. This is important in the event something goes wrong with your shipment.
Tip: You should include the contact information of your consignee for agents at destination to be able to contact them locally.
Once the Bill of Lading is approved, it is important to obtain a final, released version of the Bill of Lading. Make sure to get the originals in hand if you’re dealing with original Bill of Ladings. Likewise, if you’re dealing with express Bill of Ladings, ensure you have a copy that clearly states ‘express Bill of Lading’ or ‘waybill’ and does not have words like ‘draft’ or ‘verify copy’ splashed across it.
If you’re shipping hazardous materials, common sense has it that you should be declaring this. Make sure that this is clearly labelled on your Bill of Lading. You have to take responsibility for the safe shipping of your hazardous product. Play it safe and be as detailed as you can. This also goes without saying that you should also have obtained the required licenses and permits to ship hazardous materials. The type of license would depend on the type of hazardous material you’re shipping and your destination country.
Be as specific and thorough as you can in your freight description. In this field, the more descriptive you are, the better. Indicate the number of containers and the number of goods in each container. This should ideally include value, weight, size, etc of the goods, down to the material of manufacture and common name. When it comes to weight, if you’re shipping multiple units, indicate the exact weight of the whole shipment and each unit’s exact weight.
The shipment type and number of pallets should also ideally be detailed. Special shipping instructions, if any, must be indicated on the Bill of Lading.
The Bill of Lading is a legal contract that is used as evidence in court should your shipment be implicated in legal issues. It’s important therefore to not put any false or misleading information - be it regarding your shipment or the shipper/consignee/notify party. Such information could also potentially lead to shipment and/or payment delays and expose you to claims. For example, do not indicate 50 boxes of merchandise if you’re really only shipping 45. Upon arrival, the consignee will have the right to make a claim for the shortage and you will be compliant.
When dealing with an original Bill of Lading, it’s highly recommended to always send it by courier mail and never by regular mail. With courier mail, you’re guaranteed a tracking service. That way, you can follow its journey and always have a piece of mind of knowing it’s safe. Plus, it tends to be faster than regular mail.
Given the importance of the Bill of Lading, losing it would open the doors to a stream of problems, both legally and financially. To avoid such unnecessary headaches, it’s always best to err on the safe side and opt for courier service. Before sending it off though, you should check with your consignee if you should be sending the complete set of Bill of Ladings (usually three) and if the Bill of Ladings need to be signed and stamped, which is usually the case if it’s accompanied by a Letter of Credit.
If you’re dealing with Telex Release or Express Release, however, there would be no need to worry as everything is done digitally.
There are many different types of Bill of Ladings. Depending on your role in the shipping process, you may be dealing with either the House or Master Bill of Lading.. There’s also the above-mentioned Telex Release, which is different from the original Bill of Lading.