Do I need all original bills of lading for an insurance claim..??

Can I lodge an insurance claim with an original bill of lading or do I need all original bills of lading..??

The trigger for this topic is a question that a reader Sandreen asked as below..

One of our shipments caught fire on transit. To get the Insurance claim I have to submit the full set of original B/Ls, but  I have lost 2 original B/Ls.

Sandreen, lets split the question and examine it..

Firstly you mention that the shipment caught fire in transit.. This is a VERY VITAL POINT.. You also mention that you have to submit the full set of original bills so I assume that the fire happened on board the ship while it was in transit.. If that is the case, to offer an opinion, firstly one should know the extent of the damage image of ship on fire

  • Was your cargo completely destroyed..??
  • Was your container (assuming it was a container shipment) or the carrying ship damaged heavily or destroyed..??
  • Were there other containers or cargo that were damaged or destroyed as a result of this fire..??

If all of the mentioned happened, then there would this teeny tiny small issue called “General Average” that might come into play and that will put a whole different spin on your claim..

In this case, as it is a fire on board the ship, you will have to be guided totally and completely by the bill of lading that has been issued and the clauses covered in the bill of lading.. Mainly you should look at :

  • Definitions
  • Carrier’s Responsibility
  • Notice of Claims, Time Bar and Jurisdiction
  • Matters Adversely Affecting Carrier’s Performance
  • General Average and Salvage
  • Law and Jurisdiction

These clauses would give you a general idea of what you can and cannot claim from the carrier, but you will be guided on this by our insurance agent/broker/company.. Have you received any notification from the shipping line about any General Average..??

Secondly, coming to the question of surrendering of original bills of lading for a claim, I sought the assistance of Mr.Alexander Robertson – of Robertson’s Cargo Consultancy (Pty) Ltd and he opines as below : Image for insurance claim form

When cargo is released by any ocean carrier, one original bill of lading has to be surrendered to obtain the release.  All other original bills of lading become null and void.  The reason for submitting an original bill of lading to insurers is to enable them to pursue recovery rights against the liable carrier once the claim has been settled.

Besides this, whenever you have an insurance claim you have to submit claims to the ocean carrier to preserve recovery rights on behalf of the insurer.  This is in terms of the Institute Cargo Clauses.  The carrier will also expect you to submit an original bill of lading when submitting that claim and soon even if you had all three original bills of lading, you will run out of originals.  Should there be a letter of credit, the bank will want to retain an original as well and I am yet to know why they want to retain an original on their file.

When I was the claims manager in South Africa for the fourth largest container carrier, if any claimant informed me that they had only one original bill of lading on file which was surrendered to the freight department to obtain release, I would merely go to the freight department and remove the original from their file placing a note on the file that I had removed it due to the claim.

In the same way, whilst settling claims on behalf of international insurance companies, all the claimant had to way submit a copy of the bill of lading and a copy of the claim against the ocean carrier, stating that the original bill of lading has been retained by the ocean carrier when release was obtained or when submitting the claim against the carrier.

One thing to consider is that the terms of carriage are printed on the bill of lading and the carriers have the habit of changing them on a regular basis.  Thus prior to surrendering any original bill of lading, take a photo copy of the back and front ensuring that you can read under which version of bill of lading the cargo was shipped.   A large print version of the clauses should be available for download from the carrier’s website or the party who issued the bill of lading, for example in the case of a FIATA bill of lading.  These wordings are vital to have on hand whenever you are endeavouring any recovery from the carrier.

So to obtain your settlement from the insurer without the original bill of lading, give the insurer a letter stating that the original has been surrendered to the carrier to obtain the release of the cargo, plus a photo copy of the original which was surrendered.

I trust that this has answered your question and assists you in obtaining the payment from insurers.

If any one else has any other opinions please post..

What did you think of the above article..?? Comment below..

4 comments on “Do I need all original bills of lading for an insurance claim..??

  1. Htet Ko Zin says:

    Thanks a lot, sir!

  2. Selva Prabhakaran says:

    This is essential knowledge for every shipper. Thank you very much!

  3. Sriram says:

    offered a good learning on the subject

    1. Very interesting, but what is your opinion if the cargo damage appears once the container is discharged and delivered at our customer facilities? i.e in case an frozen fish cargo delivered at our clients facilities on a CIF basis? And in case on a DAP basis? Has the receiver (shipper in case DAP sale) to submit to its cargo insurance company an original of the B/L? Has the shipper to deliver the carrier all of the originals of the B/L to receive the container? Thanks a lot.

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