The Bill of Lading, or B/L, is a document that is always used in maritime transport and fulfils three fundamental functions. The first is to attest to the delivery of the goods on board the ship, the second is proof of the contract of carriage, and finally, it is a means of transferring the rights to the goods in transit to the other party by transmitting the document on paper.
However, in a world increasingly dominated by new technologies that are applied in all economic sectors, the digitisation of this type of document has begun to take shape. Even before the COVID-19 epidemic, the main shipowners were working to create common IT standards, but the situation generated by the health crisis has meant that companies had to prepare quickly for this digital dynamic.
Adapting to new times
For example, some shipping companies have already begun to issue their first electronic bills of lading, or eB/L, in order to adapt to the new times and limit waiting times for the issuance of bills of lading. They have started to use electronic bills of lading at a regional level, and later on, at an international level. Some experts suggest that the electronic document will eliminate the paper trail, its associated costs and the possibility of fraud.
However, the acceptance of the electronic bill of lading depends very much on the incorporation of all these conventions and international recommendations into the domestic legislation of States. Normally, the electronic bill of lading works with two systems of contractual scope such as the Bolero system and the one adopted by the International Maritime Committee.
Limits of eB/L
– For decades, operators have used paper bills of lading and the only way to encourage economic operators to use bills of lading is to increase confidence in these systems.
– Lack of legal certainty: there is a need to equalize the level of legal certainty between the electronic and physical environment.
– Difficulties in accessing new technologies for SME freight forwarders and fully developing e-business as a whole.