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The Sea Waybill and its Legal Implications.

written by: Manu • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 3/25/2009

An earlier article in this series explained the use of the Bill of Lading at sea. One of the types of a B/L is a Sea Waybill (or Straight Bill, or SWB) of Lading. Why is it necessary? In what way is it better? Read on...

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    What is a Sea Waybill? SWB vs B/L

    A SWB is a restricted type of Bill of Lading. An earlier article explained the three uses of a normal B/L, which were

    1. a B/L is a receipt for goods carried on a ship
    2. it is proof of a contract of carriage
    3. it is a document of title

    which may be negotiable - or, to order, similar to a bank cheque.

    What is it not?

    A SWB, on the other hand, is not a document of title. This means that the ownership of the cargo cannot be transferred to a third party by endorsement or otherwise. A SWB will have a named consignee on it, who is the sole owner of the goods at the port of discharge.

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    Why do we need a SWB? Advantages over a 'normal' B/L

    In modern commerce, especially if the consignee is known and there is no interest in transferring title to the goods carried, a normal B/L has the disadvantage that it is required to be physically produced by the consignee.

    Race against time

    It often happens that the administration and the process which a normal Bill of Lading has to undergo is complicated and takes a long time. This is especially true if banks and letters of credit (L/Cs) are involved. In many such circumstances, it is a fight against time to get the B/Ls in the consignee’s hands before the cargo arrives at its port of discharge. This is all the more apparent when the load and discharge ports are not far apart and voyage times are small- particularly in short sea trades in Europe and South East Asia.

    A Sea Waybill is ideal for these kinds of trades. Goods can be delivered to a consignee or receiver without need of a physical document having to reach him. A SWB is even more ideal when banks or L/Cs are not involved, as the documentation is then even simpler, thus reducing workload of everyone involved be it the company, agent or the Master.

    Use of modern technology

    With the growth in communications’ technology, a SWB is designed to be accepted ‘paperless’, and can be sent by email or other such means. The original document need not be produced. Although there are still a few countries which will not permit goods to be discharged to a consignee without a physical document, their numbers are decreasing.

    In practice, goods will be released to a consignee once he or she has produced proof of identity under a SWB.

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    A 'Straight Bill' of Lading; other advantages of a SWB

    In the United States, the term used for a SWB is “Straight Bill of Lading”; the two terms mean exactly the same thing.

    A SWB has another advantage: it can be used for multimodal transport, and is very useful in door to door deliveries where the goods may have been carried by a combination of rail, truck and ship at various stages of shipment.

    It can be thus clearly seen that the use of a SWB will simplify documentation procedure considerably. Although a physical SWB may well be issued, under normal circumstances it is unneccessary and an emailed SWB is normally accepted without hesitation.

    Paperless transactions are thus easily possible.

Bills of Lading and Seaway Bills

Explanation of some unique documentation required when goods are carried by sea.
  1. The Bill of Lading made simple
  2. The Sea Waybill and its Legal Implications.