Ocean Bill of Lading

An Ocean Bill of Lading is a contract between a shipper (exporter) and a carrier and enables the shipper to transport cargo over international waters from port to port and forms part of other essential documents (invoice, packing list, cerificate of origin, fumigation certificates etc) that are required for the cargo to enter the destination country.

Different countries have different documentary requirements. In the USA, for example, incoming shipments must also be accompanied by documents specific to the USA. You can see some of the current requirements here.

If the final destination of the shipment is inland then an "Inland Bill of Lading" will also be necessary.

An Ocean B/L has the same functions as standard B/L:

  • It acts as a receipt for merchandise (cargo) transported.
  • It is a document of title (generally transferable) to the merchandise which enables the holder of the original documents (not copies) to claim the cargo.
  • It is evidence of the existence of a contract between a shipper and a carrier for the carriage of merchandise but it is not the contract itself.
  • It is a "quasi negotiable instrument" - an instrument which, although not strictly negotiable under merchant law, is framed in such a way that good title can nevertheless be transferred either by delivery or by endorsement.

An Ocean Bill of Lading has two categories - "Received for Shipment" and "On Board"

Received for Shipment Bill of Lading

This B/L is issued for a specified shipping vessel where storage space has already been reserved and the shipping company is in possession of the cargo. The Bill certifies that cargo has been received for shipment and it acts as a receipt for such cargo.

It can be considered as a temporary B/L and may be used when merchandise arrives at the port before the shipping vessel.

When the merchandise is finally loaded on board the Bill is replaced with an Onboard B/L, Straight B/L or Order B/L.

Onboard Bill of Lading also known as FOB, Free on Board, Freight on Board, Shipped on Board)

An On Board Bill will only be issued by the shipper after the cargo has been loaded aboard the shipping vessel.

Letters of Credit issued by banks will usually specify that the Bills must be “On Board”.



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Charter party B/L Claused or Foul Bill of Lading Clean B/L Duplicate B/L Feeder Bill of Lading House B/L Inland B/L Liner B/L Ocean B/L Order B/L Short Form B/L Spent B/L Split B/L Straight B/L Switch B/L Through B/L Transhipment

example documents: certificate of origin commercial invoice packing list certificate of fumigation ISPM Heat Treatment