Combined transport and bills of lading. In modern international trade and sales of goods the transport of goods by sea alone is no longer of greatest significance. Containers, in particular, have made it easier for transport of the same unit to be carried by different modes of transport. Sales of goods and delivery of goods are now commonly made on a “door-to-door” basis. “Combined transport” is the term used where goods are successively carried by at least two modes of transport, for example, by road, rail, inland waterway, sea and air.
Traditionally, the Hague Rules, Hague-Visby Rules and even the Hamburg Rules, govern bills of lading and tend to cover only port-to-port transport: The inland stages or stages of transport by air are covered by other documents and other regimes of liability of the carrier. Now, however, developing “intermodalism” or, as it may be called, “multimodalism” can cover the situation where the seller entrusts his goods to one Garner who undertakes to transport or arrange to transport the goods to the buyer’s destination, bearing one regime of liability. As far as the shipper is concerned, he can obtain one transport document, which he can then present to the bank for payment for the goods. Such a document has a good potential but requires international acceptance. The “Multimodal Convention 1980” (United Nations Convention on International Multimodal Transport of Goods) is not yet in force in 1992.
However, the concept of combined transport is not new. For example, the “Uniform Customs and Practice for Documentary Credits, 1974” (UCP 1974) stated that
“If the credit calls for a combined transport document, i.e. one which provides for a combined transport by at least two different modes of transport . . .banks will accept such documents as tendered.”
However, if the credit required a “shipped bill of lading” a combined transport document was unacceptable by banks.
UCP 1983 now provides in Art. 26:
“If a credit calling for a transport document stipulates as such document a marine bill of lading:
(a) Banks will, unless otherwise stipulated in the credit accept a document which:
(i) appears on its face to have been issued by a named carrier, or his agent, and
(ii) indicates that the goods have been loaded on board or shipped on a named vessel . . .
(b) Subject to the above, and unless otherwise stipulated in the credit, banks will not reject a transport document which:
(i) bears a title such as `Combined transport bill of lading’, `Combined transport document’, ‘Combined transport bill of lading’ or `port-to-port bill of lading’, or a title or a combination of titles of similar intent and effect . . .”
Article 27 provides that unless the credit “specifically calls for an on board transport document, . . . banks will accept a transport document which indicates that goods have been taken in charge or received for shipment”. Therefore, shipped bills of lading are no longer essential in the modern carriage of goods.
Combined transport without a single document as evidence of the contract of carriage can cause problems if different liability regimes are used. The cargo interests will have to discover and establish at what stage the loss or damage may have occurred and then bring an action against the carrier under separate contracts of carriage. A problem can also arise with regard to the documentary credit system of paying for the goods. If the seller has to prove to the bank that the goods are on their way to the buyer he will have to obtain all the documents evidencing carriage until the goods reach the buyer’s destination.
Many large shipping companies offer one-document carriage with single liability. The documents they use may be called combined transport bills of lading or “multimodal transport documents”. In addition there are similar documents for general use, such as COMBIDOC, a “Combined Transport Document” issued by BIMCO. Large freight forwarders may issue another form of combined transport bill of lading, the “Negotiable FIATA Combined Transport Bill of Lading”, which is subject to the Standard Conditions of FIATA. FIATA is the international organisation of freight forwarders who provide services to shippers and the modified standard form of document its members may use is treated with respect in the business community because, as a last resort, FIATA, in Zurich, Switzerland, may compensate a cargo claimant if the forwarder member cannot. The commonly accepted abbreviation for such a document is “FBL”, for “FIATA Bill of Lading”: (See also FIATA Bill of Lading.)
However, not all carriers are prepared to accept overall responsibility for carriage and many wish to limit their liability by attempting to pass on the fault for loss or damage to other Garners, or subcontracting carriers.
A combined transport document may name the issuer of the document as a “Combined Transport Operator” or “CTO”. For example, COMBIDOC states that the CTO is “the party on whose behalf this CT document is signed”. This party does not have to be the ocean carrier. It can be freight forwarder.
The CTO accepts the responsibility to take the goods into his charge and complete the transport, delivering them at the place designated for delivery. The liability of the CTO is assumed to cover loss of or damage to the goods from the taking into charge until the time of delivery. The compensation method and regime of liability depends on the knowledge of the stage of transport where the loss or damage occurs. If it is known where the loss or damage takes place, the liability of the CTO is governed by whichever international Convention that applies to the carriage on that stage. For example, if the carriage is by sea, the Hague Rules or Hague-Visby Rules and their provisions relating to liability may apply. If the transport stage is by road, the International Carriage of Goods by Road Convention, “CMR 1956”, may apply. By rail, the International Carriage of Goods by Rail Convention, “CMI 1970”, may apply while the Warsaw Convention 1929 may apply to Carriage of Goods by Air.
If the stage of transport where the loss has occurred is not known, the liability of the CTO and the limitation of liability may be governed by provisions in the document.