Steam Navigation Co.

In Grant v. Norway (1851) a bill of lading was signed by the master for 12 bales of silk which the shipowner proved had not been put on board.  The court held that the master had no authority to sign for goods not shipped and the bill of lading holders had no claim against the shipowner for non-delivery. The bill of lading is prima facie evidence both under the Hague/Hague Visby Rules and at common law,  that the goods were shipped and the burden of disproving it is on the shipowner.  The evidence must show that the goods were not shipped. In Smith v. Bedouin Steam Navigation Co. 1896 the master signed a bill of lading which stated that 1000 bales of jute had been shipped.  When the goods were delivered there was found to be a shortage of 12 bales.  The House of Lords held that the shipowners were liable unless they could prove that the 12 bales had not in fact been shipped.  The Carriage of Goods be Sea Act, 1971 incorporating the Hague-Visby Rules provides statements in the bill of lading shall be regarded as conclusive evidence when such bill of lading has been transferred to a third party acting in good faith. If the bill of lading contains the words “weight, quantity and contents unknown” it is not even prima facie evidence and to succeed in an action for non-delivery the shipper must show that the goods were in fact shipped.  This was the decision in New Chinese Antimony Co v. Ocean Steamship Co (1917).  Where the bill states the number of bags shipped “weight and contents unknown” that number remains prima facie evidence of the number of bags shipped and if the consignee can thus prove the short delivery the inference will be drawn that the bags not delivered contain contents similar in quantity and weight to that delivered.