P & I Clubs

In general the international P & I Clubs will not support owners issuing ‘pre‑dated’ bills of lading. Letters of indemnity supplied by shippers under these circumstances are not legally enforceable. A shipper may require the ship’s master to carry on the voyage an original bill of lading with the ship’s papers – i.e.: in the “ship’s bag” – for handing over at the destination to a named consignee. In connection with this service, the master may be asked also to issue the shipper with a letter – termed a “disposal letter” – confirming the arrangement. This procedure was vital in the days of sailing ships when the cargo-carrying vessel could well reach the discharging port before any other means of physical communication. It become less important when steamships took over and fast mail ships could carry documents much quicker than the tramp. It is, of course, now becoming rare given the speed and reliability of airmail, but is still encountered in the short sea and coastal trades. A relic of those early days which still persists, much to the perplexity of many people in the shipping industry, is that of issuing more than one original B/L (that is not counting several non-negotiable copies). You will see this in Appendix 8:1 where, just above the signature there is a dotted line where the number in the ‘set’ has to be entered. In the days of sail and the early steam era, one could quite understand the despatch of one original via fast mail packet, one in the ship’s bag and one held back by the shipper in case the other two became lost. Today, when letters of credit are so often involved, the banks obviously want all the originals otherwise they lose their security, so the reason for a set of more than one is something of a historic anomaly.