Indorsee

Shippers cannot be required to accept bills of lading in accordance with the charter if such charter involved unusual or onerous terms of which they were ignorant and can demand their goods back if shipped at the ship’s expense. When the charterer is himself the shipper and receives the bill of lading in terms which differ from the charter the proper construction of the two documents taken together is prima facie as between the shipowner and the charterer.   Where the charterer becomes an indorsee the bill of lading does not vary or modify the terms of the charter, at least, where the charter provides that bills of lading are to be signed “without prejudice to the charter”.  Where the bill of lading was indorsed as between the shipowner and the indorsee, the bill of lading must be considered to contain the contract. The bill of lading as a document of title.   A bill of lading is equivalent in law to possession of the goods.  It is a document of title which represents the goods.  As Lord Justice Bowen said in Saunders v. Maclean (1883) “ it is the key which in the hands of a rightful owner is intended to unlock the door of the warehouse, floating or fixed, in which the goods may be”. The shipowner will be justified in delivering the cargo to the holders of the first bill of lading presented to him, provided he has no knowledge that it would be wrong for him to so deliver.  The shipowner must not however part with the goods if no bill of lading is presented.  If he does so he may be liable in the tort of conversion.