What is an original bill of lading (OBL)?


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Original Bill of Lading (OBL)

What is an original bill of lading (OBL)?

An original bill of lading (OBL) is a shipping document or a contract of carriage which serves as the title of the cargo and a shipment receipt. This document confirms the carrier’s receipt of the cargo. When an original bill of lading is issued, two other identical original bills of lading are printed and issued together as one single contract of carriage. 

In order for the consignee or the receiver to gain the release of the shipment upon reaching the destination, at least one of the original bills must be signed by the importer or their agent. This document must be surrendered to the steamship line.  As long as the shipper retains the original bills, they may receive payment prior to the release of the originals to the consignee or buyer. In these cases, most importers either prepay or fix credit terms with their suppliers, which allows them to enable shipments to be released on “express bills.”

When your cargo is released, the original bills of lading must also be provided before the delivery of cargo to its final destination. There are two ways in which cargo can be released with an original bill of lading: 

1. With an endorsed original bill of lading

2. With a telex release- a paperless system of communication

Why is it important to have a Bill of Lading?

These are crucial to the successful transportation of goods. The document serves as a legally-binding agreement that helps the carrier process the cargo according to the original contract terms set up between the carrier and shipper or the owner of the freight. This makes it possible for the BOL can be used when litigation concerns come up. The inaccurate filing of BOL documents can lead carriers to claims and criminal prosecution. 

BOLs can also be used in negotiations since they are considered a title of goods. Because of this, some BOLs can be transferred to third parties while the goods are in transit, which ultimately gives control of the cargo to different parties on the road. This also indicates that if the carrier hasn’t been paid in full for the transport of goods, the carrier can keep the BOL along with the goods, until the transaction is completed. 

What’s on a Bill of Lading?

A lot of information should be included on a bill of lading, depending on its type. Here is a list of some of them: 

1. Carrier’s name

2. Signature from the carrier- the ship’s master or a legal representative of either party

3. Notations of the loading and destination ports

4. Terms and conditions of carriage / or a reference to these conditions

5. A detailed description of the goods being shipped, including:

  • Count
  • Value
  • Size
  • Weight
  • Markings / Numbers


How many types of Bill of Lading are there? 

There are over 10 types of Bill of Lading, however, only some of them are commonly used. 

What are the most commonly used Bill of Lading documents? 

Straight: This is used when goods are paid in full and are directly shipped to the consignee. These are non-negotiable BOLs. 

Shipper’s Order: This is used when cargo is purchased on a credit and the transaction is handled through a bank. These are negotiable documents and function as a title of goods. When using a Shipper’s Order, the buyer usually needs the original copy of the BOL to take possession of cargo at the destination. 

Air Waybill: These are used when transporting goods via air. They are non-negotiable BOLs. 

Originals: This is used to help control the cargo when the consignee or buyer hasn’t paid the manufacturer fully for the goods. When the buyer pays the manufacturer for the goods and presents the full set of original documents, then the goods can be released to the consignee. 

Inland: This is issued and used when cargo is transported on land through rail or truck. 

Multimodal: This is used when cargo is transported through intermodal or on more than one mode of transport, such as ocean, air, land, etc. 

Through: This is used when cargo is transported through the use of intermodal transport but has been stored in various warehouses. To be effective, Through BOLs require an Inland and Ocean BOL.

Switch: This is used during the transport of goods from foreign-to-foreign shipments, where the shipper requires the information of their suppliers to remain private. In such a case, two sets of BOLs will be switched to protect the information of the supplier or the consignee. 




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