Tanker bills of lading. There is nothing very special about the forms of bills of lading used in tankers except some general procedural issues.
First, in some loading places there may be a tendency to require the master to sign the bills of lading in blank and later the shore terminal fills in the figures alleged to have been loaded. For example, in busy tanker terminals, this may be encouraged ostensibly to avoid delay and allow the next ship to come into the berth. Delay can occur if the ship has to ullage its tanks as the terminal and the vessel have to wait to compare ship-shore figures. However, in some terminals, even though there may not have been other ships waiting to be berthed it tends to become “standard practice”.
In some tanker terminals, for example, the master is asked to sign a set of blank bills of lading. One copy is left on board with the master and the others are taken ashore. After loading, the terminal staff may come on board and insert in the master’s copy the figures which they feel will reduce master’s protests but they may then return ashore and enter in their originals any other figures over which the master has no control. The opportunity for fraud in some countries’ terminals is obvious. This can bring the ship into serious difficulties at the discharging port where it may be claimed that there is a short delivery. Alternatively, the figures are not entered into the master’s copy on board, the ship is directed to depart the berth and later the ship and shore figures are compared over the radio. If the difference is large, perhaps 0.5 to 1 per cent, the master may protest but it may be very late because his vessel could be many miles away from the loading port.
Secondly, owing to the generally short voyages and the custom of the trade, one set of originals is left on board with the master for delivery to the eventual consignee. This person will then indorse the bill of lading, return it to the master and the oil will then be discharged to the orders of the consignee. This means that the charterers are requiring that the oil is discharged without presentation of a separate, unique, original bill of lading. One problem with this is that another holder of one of the originals may arrive at the ship with his original and claim the cargo. However, this can be seen as an alternative to the system where the charterer may require that the ship discharges the cargo without presentation of the original bill of lading. This may be common in short tanker trades, for example, from Yanbu in Saudi Arabia, across the Red Sea to Ain Sukhna in Egypt. Delivery without production of the original bill of lading can have very serious consequences for the shipowner in addition to the possible loss of cover from the P. and I. Association.
For example, cl. 33(6) of SHELLVOY 5 states that the owners are not obliged to discharge the cargo without presentation of an original bill of lading unless the charterers have given written confirmation and an “acceptable indemnity”. Many charterers do not give the shipowners this protection.
Thirdly, owing to the nature of the trade and the frequent “chain-sales” of the cargo of oil, the original destination may be changed. The bills of lading may contain the names of the original destination ports. If the charterer changes the contractual destination the shipowner may have to recall all the bills of lading that were issued and change the name of the destination port on them, otherwise the owner can meet difficulties for delivering the cargo to the wrong place. One method of avoiding liability is to require the charterer to obtain the consent of all the holders of the bills of lading and/or to indemnify the shipowner for any claims because of the change of destination.