Bill of Lading (BoL)


A document to provide evidence of contract of carriage; confirmation of receipt for the goods; and/or a document of title.


An ocean carrier issues the final Bill of Lading, but the drafting process involves a freight forwarder or shipper too.


Presented to the nominated agent or office at destination in return for the goods.

Legal Framework

There are some countries which have national legislation on bills of lading or multimodal transport.


Containerised Ocean Freight is estimated at 50 million per annum.

Key Standards

Key industry stakeholders have collaborated on and mapped their standards to the UN/CEFACT MMT Reference Data Model, such as BIMCO; DCSA; and FIATA.

Major Differences between Standards

The minor difference between the Bill of Lading standards is purely around the business use cases. For containerised freight movements the appropriate standard is DCSA; for Bulk Shipping BIMCO; and when Freight Forwarders act as a multimodal transport operator, FIATA eFBL.


For the electronic exchange of Bills of Lading in containerised ocean shipping, the platform provider must be approved by the International Group of Protection & Indemnity (IGP&I). As of September 2022, there are seven approved platforms for the exchange of electronic Bills of Lading.

Key Data Elements & Definitions

  • Document: Carrier Booking Reference Number; Freight Forwarders Reference Number; Shippers Reference Number; Bill of Lading Number; Contract/ Quote Reference Number
  • Party: Shipper; Consigness; Notify Party; Carrier Party (using either SCAC or SMFG code)
  • Location: Place of Receipt; Port of Loading; Port of Discharge; Place of Delivery; Place of Payment (UN/LOCODE)
  • Goods: Number of Packages; Type of Packaging (CEFACT Coded); HS Code (Commodity Code); Description of Goods; Product identifier (i.e. product code or SKU); IMDG (Dangerous Goods); Danger Level (Dangerous Goods); Proper Shipping/ Technical Name (Dangerous Goods)
  • Measure: Temperature Setting for Reefer Containers; Temperature Units (i.e. CEL) coded from UNCEFACT; Total Number of Containers; Volume; Weight
  • Date: Estimated Time of Departure (ETD); Actual Time of Departure (ATD); Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA); Actual Time of Arrival (ATA); Estimated and Actual Dates for place of receipt and delivery (if not port). Note: These above data attributes are separated into Pre Leg, Main Leg and On Carriage which contains the above data attributes along with the Means of Transport information below
  • Transport: Conveyance Reference Number (i.e. Voyage Number); Mode of Transport (Air, Road and Sea) Coded Value UNCEFACT; Vessel Name; Identifier (I.e. IMO Vessel Number)
  • Terms: Incoterms
  • Consignment: Container Number; Container Size/ Type (ISO Coded); Full or Empty Indicator

Each stakeholder group has its clear business case, and whilst there are some very minor differences in use of business domain language, their mappings to UN/CEFACT MMT Reference Data Model easily allow interoperability through a common semantic anchoring.


A lack of interoperability has in the past hindered development and growth in the uptake of electronic Bills of Lading, so adoption is currently very limited. However through the contributions made by the various stakeholder groups there is now clear alignment between them using international standards.

Other Information


Document-Specific Challenges

Framing the problem: Part of the reluctance to adopt eBLs stems from uncertainty around their legal validity. Only a very small number of jurisdictions give electronic trade documents the same standing as their paper counterparts, which means commercial eBL solutions have had to get around this using contract law – whereby all parties essentially agree that the eBL is equivalent to a paper BL.

  • Uncertain legal landscape

Document Specific Solutions

Relevant actions covered in cross-cutting recommendations.