The Role of B/L
A Bill of Lading then becomes a document which has multifarious legal advantages. Firstly, it is a legally accepted receipt of goods. Secondly, it indicates a contract between the shipper and the vessel (or carrier), and will usually indicate all the agreed upon terms of this contract. It is also common to have standardised B/L formats following internationally accepted norms being used, which facilitate the transaction without each party having to laboriously go over the clauses for each shipment.
Most importantly, under certain conditions, it may be a negotiable instrument, which means that it is a document of title. Goods may physically be a thousand miles away, but, once loaded, such ae B/L becomes a critical document of ownership. This kind of B/L may be traded and transferred far away and endorsed to a third party much like a bank cheque. This characteristic of a B/L, that of being a document of entitlement to the physical goods being carried, is a unique characteristic which makes it much more than just a receipt of carriage of goods or a contract of carriage.
Such a B/L will order the carrier (ship) to release the goods to the person or entity who produces the B/L endorsed to him.
A B/L is thus the grease which enables global commerce to run smoothly, even when the parties involved are halfway across the world from each other.