Recently I had a question from a reader related to the checking of Bill of lading vs customs documents
Dear Sir, Every shipping line check bill of lading with shipping bill. why they are checking with s.bill. is this advised by Indian gov. or as per IMO. wht are the details to match….
A very pertinent question, thanks Krish..
The customs documents
If you are wondering what a “shipping bill” is (referenced in the above question), you are not alone.. In India a shipping bill is the document you pass with customs before you export the cargo.. It is known by many names in different countries..
South Africa calls it “Bill of Entry – SAD500”, UK calls it “Export Declaration (using the NES)”, Japan calls it “Customs form C-5010”, Canada terms it “B13A – Export Declaration”, and so on and so on..
But whichever country it is or whichever document is used as a customs declaration , the common thread here is that, it is always or should always be checked and verified by the shipping line against the bill of lading issued by the shipping line..
I don’t think there is any shipping line or agent in the world that does not do this check.. If there are some, in their best interest, it is necessary that this check is done..
Customs and the shipping line
First and foremost, every shipping line or agent operating in a country must adhere to the rules and regulations of that country..
When it comes to foreign trade, the main body that regulates and polices the movement of cargo in and out of the country is the Customs and Excise department..
All cargo moving in and out of the country should be cleared with Customs before the cargo is released (in the case of imports) or shipped (in the case of exports)..
The responsibility of securing this clearance from Customs rests with the importer or exporter as the case maybe..
A shipping line or agent must be registered with Customs in order for them to operate their services within the country..
As part of this registration, the shipping line has a responsibility to Customs to ensure that none of the goods are released to the customer (in the case of imports) or shipped on board any vessel (in the case of exports) without getting the release from customs which maybe in a manual or electronic format..
So what is the shipping line checking for and what do they check against..!!
In my article about “What is a Bill of Lading“, I wrote that a bill of lading has 3 basic purposes or roles..
- Evidence of Contract of Carriage
- Receipt of Goods and
- Document of Title to the goods
As an evidence of the contract of carriage and receipt of goods, the bill of lading is the key document used by the shipping line to declare the nature of the cargo that is carried under this contract of carriage..
In case of any queries by customs anywhere in the world relating to the cargo on board a ship, the first document they will ask the shipping line is the “manifest“..
The manifest as you maybe aware is essentially a collection of information from all the bills of lading released so naturally will have the same information as from the bill of lading..
Answer to the question
To answer the above question, the shipping line is checking (or should be checking) to verify that the cargo description and other information shown on the import or export declaration to Customs is the same as that is shown on the line’s bill of lading..
This is especially important when the shipment is in containers because in a containerised shipment and specially FCL cargoes, the shipping line/agents are not privy to the packing of the containers or the nature of the cargo that is inside the containers..
The shipping line relies on the information provided by the shipper in terms of the cargo, number of packages, weight and measurement..
For example, there could be customers who book Cargo A with the shipping line but this Cargo A maybe prohibited by customs and therefore the declaration to customs could be Cargo B..
Some situations could occur innocuously.. For example, a customer could book the cargo with the shipping line as “Books and Artwork“.. Nothing harmless right, and a shipping line or agent may not think twice about it..
But in South Africa for example, there is an item under Prohibited & Restricted Imports and Exports called “Unlawful reproductions of any works subject to copyright“.. Any books or artwork exported in violation of this requirement may fall under this category and the shipping line may unknowingly be allowing the export or import of this prohibited item..
The shipping line is the custodian of the cargo till it is accepted for release by customs and if they release or ship the cargo without receiving the release from customs, the shipping line maybe liable for heavy penalties, legal action which may also result in the revoking of their operating license..
Therefore it is imperative that the shipping line checks the bill of lading vs customs documents to ensure that the cargo declarations on the bill of lading and customs documents match..
Have you had any experiences (positive or negative) in this regard..?? Do share it..