NVOCC (Non vessel operating common carrier). This was the original expression given to carriers who enter into contracts to carry goods but who did not operate Or own the vessels in which the carriage was provided.
A “common carrier” has little protection under the law, being allowed only some very limited exceptions to liability for loss or damage to the goods. Most, if not all, transport operators carry goods under terms and conditions of a contract which may permit more favourable limitations or exceptions to liability. It would therefore be more appropriate to call these “non-vessel-operating carriers”. However, in the United States the NVOCC may be more commonly used and is defined in the U.S. Shipping Act 1984 as:
“…a common carrier that does not operate the vessels by which the ocean transportation is provided and is a shipper in its relationship with an ocean common carrier”
It seems that in the U.S., carriers are “common carriers” whether they provide carriage of goods by ocean or not. These carriers still use contracts with protective, which, under the English common law, seems to take them outside the concept of “common carriers” with strict liability. This makes them “private carriers”. It should be stated here, however, that even if a carrier provides carriage goods under a favourable contract, he may lose the protection of the clauses excepting or limiting liability if he breaches the contract very seriously. In this situation the private carrier may assume the characteristics of a common carrier with strict liability. In the U.S. Shipping Act 1984, the “common carrier” and “ocean common carrier” are defined as:
“common carrier means a person holding itself out to the general public to provide transportation by water of passengers or cargo between the United States and a foreign country for compensation that:
(A) assumes responsibility for the transportation from the port or point of receipt to the port or point of destination, and
(B) utilises, for all or part of that transportation, a vessel operating on the high seas or the Great Lakes between a port in the United States and a port in a foreign country.
‘ocean common carrier’ means a vessel operating common carrier; but the term does not include one engaged in ocean transportation by ferry boat or ocean tramp.”
In the definition of the ocean common carrier, the exclusion of the “tramp” vessel seems to imply that such services can only be liner services. This is, indeed, the most common usage of the phrases NVOC and NVOCC.
If goods are being transported using the services of a freight forwarder who consolidates the goods sent to him for transport into “groupage” shipments, and the forwarder may be a NVOCC in his relationship with the exporters or shippers, then enters into a contract for the carriage of goods with a vessel-operating carrier, and a shipper himself relative to the ocean carrier. When a large freight forwarder provides multimodal transport he can also be a NVOCC because he is the “principal” in the performance of the contract of carriage of goods although he uses the services of sub contracted carriers.