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Differences between Sea Waybill & Bill of Lading

The sea waybill and bill of lading (B/L or BoL) are two common documents in marine claims and are pivotal in the transport of goods by sea, both domestically and internationally.

1. Bill of Lading

It is essential for safeguarding the rights and obligations of all parties involved in the shipment of goods.

Acts as a:

  1. Receipt of the goods shipped, confirming that the carrier has received the cargo as described by the shipper.
  2. Evidence of the terms of the contract of carriage between the shipper and the carrier regarding the transport of goods.
  3. Document of title, facilitating the transfer of ownership of the goods, which can be crucial in sales transactions involving multiple parties across different jurisdictions.

Uses in Disputes or Claims:

The bill of lading must always be referenced and utilized in any claims process as it is the cornerstone for establishing legal standing and accountability in the transport of goods by sea. It is not merely a formality but a foundational legal instrument in maritime trade.

As a receipt of the goods shipped, a cargo claim is a proof that the carrier has received the cargo as described by the shipper. This is particularly crucial when cargo is damaged during transportation, as the document indicates that the cargo was in the appropriate condition post-loading. Therefore, any subsequent damage is typically deemed to have occurred under the carrier’s watch, shifting responsibility to them and forming the basis for claims.

This proof is essential for supporting claims against carriers for damages that occur while the goods are under their custody, ensuring that the carrier is held accountable for the condition of the cargo as per the terms outlined in the bill of lading.

As evidence of the terms of the contract of carriage, the bill of lading is instrumental in resolving disputes over losses that arise from breaches of the contract, such as due dispatch or deviation, or the inability to fulfill other contract stipulations. Owners need to ensure they possess all documents outlining the terms and conditions of the contract of carriage to effectively manage claims and disputes.

Cargo interests often claim against the owners under the bills of lading, which act as the contract of carriage. To determine what the contract of carriage encompasses, owners should check which documents comprise these terms and ensure they have all relevant documents at hand. The bill of lading helps determine whether claimants have the title to sue. Only the lawful holder of a bill of lading is recognized as a party to the contract of carriage with the carrier and has the legal standing to initiate a lawsuit against the carrier.

In scenarios where there are losses due to breaches of the bill of lading contract or from the carrier’s failure to meet other contractual obligations, these issues are critically managed through the B/L. Losses arising from a breach of the B/L contract can include scenarios where the carrier fails to deliver the goods in the agreed condition or timeframe, possibly due to negligence or deviation from the agreed route or procedures. Losses from the inability to fulfill other contracts refer to situations where the failure to execute the terms of the bill of lading affects the shipper’s or consignee’s ability to meet obligations in other business contracts linked to the shipment, such as when a cargo delay or damage leads to a production stoppage for a manufacturer expecting the delivery. Compensation for such interruptions may be sought based on the breach of the B/L.

By acting as a document of title for the goods, it means that in cases of loss or damage, the holder of the B/L has the legal right to initiate a claim against the carrier.

If a claim is asserted against owners as the carrier under a bill of lading, owners should consider the standing of the parties involved, and whether the bill of lading is indeed the correct document to determine the contractual relationship between the owners and the party making the claim.

This underscores the bill of lading’s role in verifying the chain of accountability from shipper to carrier, providing definitive evidence of who is responsible for the goods at various stages of the shipping process.

In maritime logistics, the contractual carrier is tasked with transporting the goods according to the terms set out in the B/L. Simultaneously, the holder of the B/L—whether the original shipper, a consignee, or a legally entitled third party—maintains title to the goods. The transfer of the B/L is pivotal; it not only denotes the transfer of possession of the goods but also the associated contractual rights and obligations. This transfer is particularly significant in legal disputes involving multiple parties or spanning different jurisdictions, as it can greatly influence the resolution of these disputes, underscoring the B/L’s fundamental role in providing legal clarity and facilitating smooth dispute resolution.

Also, do note:

It is also important to note the significance of the original bill of lading in these processes, as it is often required to establish a valid claim or to take legal action. Owners must ensure they obtain and review a complete copy of the original bill of lading (both front and back pages)to fully understand the terms of the contract and any documents that are incorporated by reference, such as the applicable charter party. This thorough review should encompass all relevant legal and jurisdictional provisions, as well as any agreements related to arbitration.

All losses or damages are recoverable in general. Understanding the specific terms outlined in the bill of lading and related legal stipulations is essential to determine recoverability in each case.

2. Sea Waybill

The Sea Waybill is crucial for facilitating the smooth transport and handling of goods across various jurisdictions. Unlike the Bill of Lading, it does not serve as a document of title but primarily functions in other essential capacities:

Acts as:

  1. Receipt of the Goods Shipped, confirming that the carrier has received the cargo as described by the shipper.
  2. Evidence of the Contract of Carriage, documenting the terms agreed upon between the shipper and the carrier for the transport of goods.

Uses in Disputes or Claims: 

Sea waybill, unlike the bill of lading, is primarily utilized to expedite the transport and delivery processes without conferring ownership of the goods. This characteristic distinctly influences its application in disputes or claims.

Facilitating claims processing involves the sea waybill expediting the resolution of claims by simplifying the identification process for cargo release since it is issued directly to a named consignee. This straightforward designation helps minimize disputes over cargo receipt, which are more common with negotiable documents like the bill of lading.

Enhancing efficiency in cargo disputes occurs because the sea waybill does not require physical presentation for the release of goods, reducing the potential for delays at the point of delivery. This efficiency is crucial in scenarios where timeliness is paramount, such as perishable goods or tight supply chains.

Reducing documentation disputes is another advantage as the sea waybill provides clear evidence of the contract of carriage without the complexities of transferability associated with a bill of lading. This makes it particularly useful in straightforward shipping arrangements where the primary concern is the execution of delivery without changes in ownership or terms.

By contrasting the sea waybill with the bill of lading, it’s clear that while the former streamlines procedures and reduces the likelihood of disputes related to possession and title, the latter provides robust protection and recourse in scenarios involving multiple parties, ownership disputes, or the need for negotiable documentation. 

Each serves unique purposes, making the choice between them dependent on the specific needs of the shipping transaction and the nature of the goods transported.

It is essential to understand the documents involved. If you have any doubts, Claimar is ready and equipped to answer your questions.

We are Claimar, your Third Party Administration (TPA) management partner, skilled and expert in marine services.


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