A Guide to Charter Party Bills of Lading and a UCP issue


Charter Party Bills of Lading (CPBL's) are bills of lading that are issued subject to the terms and conditions of a charter party. A CPBL is synonymous with commodity or bulk shipment cargoes. 


Charter party shipments are subject to the signing of a charter party contract between the owner of the vessel and the charterer (usually the applicant or the beneficiary, depending on the Incoterm that is used in the documentary credit). 


In effect, the party chartering the vessel hires such vessel in order to take its goods from port A to port B within a certain period of time. 


For a charter party bill of lading to be acceptable under a documentary credit, the documentary credit must indicate that such a document is required or permitted. 


The goods are loaded and discharged according to the terms of the charter party contract and, for this reason, some banks do not consider a charter party bill of lading as having the same level of security in the goods as a conventional bill of lading, even if the document indicates that the goods are consigned or endorsed to its order. A bank is not concerned with, nor does it examine, a charter party contract even if called for under a documentary credit.  


UCP 600 sub-article 22 (a) (i) states that a CPBL must appear to have been signed by:

  • The master or a named agent for or on behalf of the master, or.
  • The owner or a named agent for or on behalf of the owner, or,
  • The charterer or a named agent for or on behalf of the charterer.


If a credit allows for or requires the presentation of a CPBL, then any such document that is issued and signed by a carrier or its agent is discrepant under the above sub-article. This is a noted difference in that the carrier or a named agent for or on behalf of the carrier can sign most other transport documents.


This was queried as a possible anomaly within ICC Opinion R834 (TA.793rev). The rationale behind the absence of ‘carrier' in sub-article 22 (a) (i) was originally based upon the fact that it was not commonplace for CPBL's to be signed by a carrier or by an agent for or on behalf of the carrier. However, the initiators of the referenced Opinion had indicated that such forms of signing were appearing with increased frequency and that it could no longer be considered as an infrequent practice. 


The text of the Opinion indicates that feedback had been received from the ICC Commercial Law and Practice Commission in respect of an earlier Opinion stating that the exclusion of a carrier as a signing party was to assist document examiners. If not excluded, a document examiner could face the potential problem of trying to determine, out of a number of different entities ranging from the owner to charterers and sub-charterers, who exactly might be the contractual carrier. As stated above, it is not for a document examiner to look at the terms of the contract of carriage. 


In order to allow for what appears to be a growing practice in some regions, the answer would be, in such circumstances, for a credit to specifically allow for a carrier (or its agent) to sign the CPBL. 


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