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Bills of Lading (BOL) - The BOL is the transport waybill for a sea freight consignment. BOLs are conceptually one of the oldest mutually recognised forms of consignment tracking; traditionally seaborne trade was one of the few ways countries conducted official trade. The BOL states to whom and on what terms the goods are to be delivered at destination. Without an original It is one of the most crucial documents used in international trade in that it ensures the shipper receives their payment and the consignee receives their cargo, and without an official BOL the goods will not be released. Modern BOLs are highly standardised, and BOLs generated by different shipping lines will look almost identical in layout. Many shipping companies will require BOLs even if the vessel is not moving between two different countries – the BOL also represents a contract between the vessel owner and the owner of the good being shipped.

There are three types of BOL arrangements that can be used:

  • Original BOL - Consignee has to handover all three sets of original BOLs to their customs agent at destination to release the cargo. With original BOLs, possession of the goods is determined by possession o the BOL - whoever possesses the original BOLs may be entitled to demand possession of the  goods from the carrier. Shipments using original BOLs may be delayed if the documents are lost or not in hand at the time of clearing.
  • Seaway BOL – Original BOL is not required and cargo can be released directly to the consignee by their customs agent. Seaway BOLs are useful because the physical document does not need to be present, and the consignee can begin clearing as soon as cargo arrives. Many banks do not accept Seaway BOLs if a letter of credit is required however.
  • Telex Release BOL – In telex BOLs, the supplier surrenders the original BOL to their export/forwarding agent at origin and transmits using telex directly to customs at destination request to release of cargo to the consignee.

BOLs are usually issued in a set of three originals and several non-negotiable copies. The BOL is signed on behalf of the ship owner by the person in command of a ship or the shipping agent, acknowledging the receipt on board the ship of certain specified goods for carriage. It stipulates the payment of freight and the delivery of goods at a designated place to the consignee therein named.