Ship’s Master

All bills should be signed by either the ship’s master or by a duly authorised agent, in their capacities as servants of the shipowner or of the disponent time-charter owner – i.e.: the carrier. If time does not permit the ship’s master to sign the bills, a letter is usually drawn up giving the port agent appropriate authority to sign bills of lading. Alternatively, it may be agreed at the time of negotiating the charterparty that “charterers and/or their agents be authorised by owners to sign bills of lading as presented on master’s and/or on owner’s behalf, in accordance with mate’s and/or tally clerk’s receipts, without prejudice to this charterparty”. There is an international agreement published by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) entitled Uniform Custom and Practice for Documentary Credits (UCP 500) which sets out the requirements of banks and other parties handling bills of lading and the shipping documents related to documentary credits. UCP 500 stipulates that bills of lading must be signed by the master (giving his name in full) or by the carrier or his agent in a form that clearly identifies the carrier’s name: e.g. Liner Agencies Co as agent for the Carrier Bulk Shipping Ltd. It is important also to date bills of lading correctly, and as per the date on which the complete cargo (in the case of an homogeneous commodity) or an individual item (for liner goods) is actually loaded. Where cargo is loaded later than specified in letter of credit transactions, shipowners may be approached to sign pre-dated bills of lading, possibly against letters of indemnity to be issued by the shippers or charterers. In fact, the consignee may be well aware of the delay in loading and be happy with the suggested arrangement, which otherwise might involve time-consuming and tedious extra paperwork. Nevertheless, the wise shipowner will consider such an approach very cautiously, perhaps contacting his P & I Club for advice, even in cases where he is convinced that all parties are fully aware of the circumstances.