Calls for electronic bills of lading to reduce risk of mis-declared cargo

Bill of Lading. Credit: Henke Grankvist / Shutterstock

The Digital Container Shipping Association has called for collaboration in the shipping industry to create a standardised electronic bill of lading (eBL) which could improve maritime safety by streamlining the identification of mis-declared cargoes.

The DCSA has begun to devise the steps and standards necessary for the development of a standardised eBL and is working with its nine member carriers, as well as eBL service providers, to adapt and provide workable solutions.

It is believed that by digitalising BLs and having one standardized system it will increase visibility and accountability of mis-declared cargoes, making it easier and quicker to trace where an error has occurred. “If the data becomes digitalized regulatory bodies will be able to improve their targeting processes when it comes to mis-declared cargoes,” said Thomas Bagge CEO DCSA, to SAS.

The push towards digitalization will also promote maritime safety by pushing the workload to the shipper side. Bagge used the example of online banking; when someone transfers money or pays a bill the data is inputted directly by the customer and is only processed by the banks, so if the money doesn’t arrive to the correct payee it’s because the customer has made an error. By streamlining the loading process of a vessel and creating a standardised eBL it will eliminate any misunderstandings over mis-declaration. “It will put pressure on shippers to declare their cargo correctly, because there will be no arguing later on when there is a problem,” said Bagge.

By teaming this system with other smart initiatives, such as an Internet of Things (IoT) smart container device that regulates and records the temperature inside a container, it can further eliminate mis-declared cargos and be an early warning sign of ship fires.

Bagge noted that then the stakeholders will be able to cross reference data, so if a container starts heating up and it’s picked up by IoT sensors you can quickly check the eBL to see what is inside it. “You can contact the shipper and say, you said you were shipping tyres, according to the eBL, but tyres don’t start heating up by themselves,” commented Bagge. “The two devices together will really help improve maritime safety and make mis-declaration of cargo a smaller issue than it has been historically.”

Though primarily the push for eBL standardization is to improve customer experience – according to financial modelling the eBL could save an estimated USD4 billion a year if only 50% of adoption is achieved – the safety and environmental benefits, switching from paper to digital, are undeniable, said Bagge.

The coronavirus disease outbreak has also spurred on the call for further digitalization in the shipping industry, with the rise of remote surveys and e-certificates. A leading shipping nation has already approached the DCSA to take part of in the pilot implementation.