Paperless Trading - A Guide to Electronic Bills of Lading

Electronic bills of lading have been in existence for some time but their use has recently begun to increase significantly. In order to support Members in their use of such systems, the International Group of P&I Clubs (“IG”) analysed those offered by some suppliers in order to assess whether liabilities fall within Club cover.

The following systems (and the listed versions of the associated legal documentation and terms of use) have been approved for the purposes of Club cover:

ICE-ICE Digital Trade Management Limited (“ICE”), formerly known as Electronic Shipping Solutions or “essDOCS”. DSUA 2023.1 terms are approved and essDOCS DSUA 2021.1 remains approved. The ICE Access Agreement (2023.01) is also approved. See Notice to Members No.7 2023/24 and No.12 2023/24.

Bolero-Bolero International Ltd Rulebook/Operating Procedure 1999 (“Bolero). See Notice to Members No. 18 2010/11

e-Title- Electronic Title User Agreement (version 1.2) (“e-Title”). See Notice to Members No. 3 2022/23

EdoxOnline- Global Share S.A. e-BL Terms and Conditions (“edoxOnline”). See Notice to Members No. 5 2019/20.

WAVE-WAVE Application and Network Bylaws, version 1 dated 20 December 2019 and version 2.0 dated 1 November 2023 (“WAVE”). See Notice to Members No. 13 2019/20 and No. 10 2023/24

CargoX- CargoX Ltd Special Terms and Conditions version 1, dated 10 February 2010 (“CargoX”). See Notice to Members No. 16 2019/20.

Secro- Secro Customer and User Agreement dated 13 November 2023 (‘the November 2023 Customer and User agreement’). Previous versions dated March 2023 and October 2022 remain approved for the purpose of Club cover, as does the Secro Standard e-bill of lading. See Notice to Members No.13 2022/23, No.4 2023/24 and No.14 2023/24.

TradeGo- TradeGo User Agreement Version 1 (2022.12.15). See Notice to Members No. 18 2022/23

Tradelens- Tradelens Rulebook and Service Description dated September 2022. The previous version, dated 24 February 2021, also remains approved. See Notice to Members No. 10 2022/23

IQAX- IQAX eBL Service Terms and Conditions dated 17 February 2022. See Notice to Members No. 4 2022/23.

eTEU Technologies Ltd- The legal documentation and terms of use associated with the use and operation of the eTEU eBL Platform are the eTEU Terms and Conditions dated 7th September 2023. This documentation has been reviewed and approved by the Group. See Notice to Members No. 15 2023/24.

BRITC- BRITC eBL Terms and Conditions, version 1.01, dated March 2024 and the Contract of Use, version 1.01, dated March 2024. See Notice to Members No. 1 2024/25

Enigio AB (trace:original™)- Enigio Standard Terms and Conditions, version 20240304 v 01 (‘the Terms and Conditions’). See Notice to Members No. 2 2024/25.   

Members are reminded that other exclusions of cover under Group Club Rules relating to the carriage of cargo will, of course, continue to apply in respect of all the IG-approved providers in the same way as for paper systems.

These exclusions include;

a) discharge at a port or place other than the port or place provided for in the contract of carriage,

b) the issue / creation of an ante or post-dated electronic document / record, and

c) the delivery of cargo without the production of the negotiable electronic document / record, which-in the case of an approved electronic trading system-will mean delivery of cargo other than in accordance with the rules of that trading system.

Other unapproved systems do exist. If Members use unapproved systems, then they will have the additional hurdle of proving that the liability would have arisen even if a paper bill had been used before Club cover can incept.

Like the use of any electronic data system, the use of all paperless trading systems carries with it potential cyber risks. These do not fall within Club cover (see FAQs, below).



BIMCO has published an Electronic Bills of Lading Clause for use in charter parties as follows:

BIMCO Electronic Bills of Lading Clause

(a) At the Charterers’ option, bills of lading, waybills and delivery orders referred to in this Charter Party shall be issued, signed and transmitted in electronic form with the same effect as their paper equivalent.

(b) For the purpose of Sub-clause (a) the Owners shall subscribe to and use Electronic (Paperless) Trading Systems as directed by the Charterers, provided such systems are approved by the International Group of P&I Clubs. Any fees incurred in subscribing to or for using such systems shall be for the Charterers’ account.

(c) The Charterers agree to hold the Owners harmless in respect of any additional liability arising from the use of the systems referred to in Sub-clause (b), to the extent that such liability does not arise from Owners’ negligence.

Further details are available via the BIMCO website.

The Electronic Trade Documents Act

The Electronic Trade Documents Act came into force in September 2023 in the United Kingdom, giving legal recognition in English law to electronic trade documents, including electronic bills of lading. On the day of entry into force, the International Group of P&I Clubs released a statement which read:

“The Group welcomes this significant legislative development, which comes soon after the adoption by Singapore of similar legislation, in the form of the Singapore Electronic Transactions (Amendment) Act 2021. Both sets of legislation meet the requirements of the Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records (MLETR), a uniform model law adopted by the UN Commission on International Trade law (UNCITRAL) in 2018.

Club Rules provide that liabilities arising in respect of the carriage of cargo under paperless trading systems are covered, provided that the system has first been approved by the Group. Since 20 February 2010, the Group has approved ten electronic systems. The Group is reviewing its approach to electronic bills of lading in light of the Act. At the same time, we continue our dialogue with industry stakeholders to assist in managing the transition from a private contractual environment to one recognised under national laws, which will serve for the benefit of the wider international shipping and trade community.”

For the full statement, see the IG P&I website.

The International Group has also produced a document addressing Frequently Asked Questions around the Electronic Trade Documents Act and the International Group’s role in the approval process of e-bills platforms.  


The position is set out in the Club’s most recent Notice to Members. 

In considering the use of a trading system that features electronic bills of lading, the Clubs wish to ensure that such a system ensures performance of the three functions of a bill of lading which customarily underpin P&I cover, namely: as a receipt, as a document of title, and as a contract of carriage which incorporates the Hague or Hague-Visby Rules.

a) Yes, cover is available for P&I liabilities arising under any Electronic bills of lading to the extent these liabilities would also have arisen under paper bills of lading.

b) To the extent these liabilities would have arisen because an electronic bill of lading has been used instead of a paper bill of lading, cover is discretionary unless the electronic trading system has been approved by the International Group.

Yes-these are listed on the Club’s Paperless Trading page and set out in Notices to Members.

It is always advisable to check that the system preferred bears the correct designation and is the approved version.  A further electronic system Members may encounter in the Brazilian cabotage trade is CT-e/DANFE.  The CT-e document is a fiscal note, while the accompanying DANFE document contains the terms of the contract of carriage which are mandatorily subject to Brazilian law.  CT-e/DANFE contracts are traded through an electronic platform (though both documents can be printed).  However, in contrast to the systems described above, CT-e/DANFE contracts of carriage are non-negotiable and cannot be endorsed to third parties; the carrier must always deliver to the named consignee, whether or not they still own the cargo.

The IG Clubs’ position is that the CT-e/DANFE system does not fall within the paperless trading exclusion. Therefore, Members’ use of this system will not have any impact on Club cover for P&I liabilities.

Yes. You will have Club cover for P&I liabilities arising out of the use of one of the approved systems (though not for liabilities which are of a non-traditional P&I nature-see Q6) and thereby avoid exposure to the risks connected with the use of a non-approved system as described in Q5.  However, it is important to note that all exceptions and exclusions under the Club Rules continue to apply (as they would with a paper bill of lading).  This includes the traditional exclusions of cover relating to the carriage of goods, such as:

-The issue or creation of an electronic document/record with a description of the cargo or its condition known to be incorrect;

-Shore delivery where an electronic document/record is issued or created for an amount of cargo greater than that known to have been loaded;

-Discharge at a port or place other than the port or place provided for in the contract of carriage.

-The issue or creation of an ante or post-dated electronic document/record; and

-Delivery of the cargo without production of the negotiable electronic document/record.

The risk is the one set out in the answer to question 1 above i.e. that the electronic system is not recognized as performing all the functions that a paper bill of lading would have performed.  One example could be that an unapproved system is found, when challenged legally, not to transfer rights in goods in the manner that the creators of the system intended.  This may give rise to a dispute about ownership and mis-delivery of the cargo.  Another example could be if the Hague or Hague-Visby Rules have not been effectively incorporated in to the electronic bill of lading.  If it is found that in each case the liability has arisen because of the use of the electronic system, then that will not be covered within normal P&I cover.  It may be covered at the discretion of Club Boards.

Members should be aware that participation in an electronic trading system may require entering into a contract with the system operator, which contract can include obligations to maintain minimum IT standards to access and use the electronic system and to use the electronic system only as permitted by the user agreements.  The user agreements usually also contain undertakings of confidentiality.  If broken, these obligations could give rise to contractual liabilities under the user agreement to other users and the operator of the electronic bill of lading system. These liabilities are no different to those contained in, for instance, software agreements or other IT application agreements and would fall outside Club cover.

These are non-marine risks, and may be covered by your own business insurances.  This is something which you can check with your non-marine business insurance broker.

These are not in the nature of P&I risks.  In insurance terms, they may be described as ‘”cyber-risks” or business risks.

The party inviting you to use this system should provide you with a copy or put you in touch with the system operator.

No. The International Group has approved these documents (as long as they are unamended and match the titles set out in the relevant Circular) as acceptable.

It is for you to satisfy yourself as to the manner in which the system operates. The Club cannot currently ‘approve’ systems other than through the IG mechanism for doing so. Unapproved System operators can of course approach the IG Secretariat for approval, and the matter would then be considered by the appropriate sub-committee comprised of Club representatives, but this is not a quick or immediate process.

Electronic systems are based on specific contractual terms rather than statues and treaties.  Is there a risk when using an approved system that the contract of carriage will not be subject to the Hague or Hague-Visby Rules and that I might therefore be deprived of my P&I cover?

No. The contractual terms for approved systems make clear that any convention, treaty or national law that would have been applicable to carriage undre a paper bill of lading will equally govern the carriage using an electronic document or record.  Thus, so long as the carriage is subject to Hague or Hague-Visby Rules by reference to the terms and conditions incorporated into the electronic document/record and/or by application of convention or national law as if a paper bill of lading had been issued, then there will be no problem with Club cover.

If the carriage is compulsorily subject to another liability regime such as Hamburg Rules, then again Club cover will remain in place as it would if the carriage were under a paper bill of lading.

As set out above, BIMCO has published a standard clause for use in charter parties governing the use of electronic bills of lading.  The clause was drafted by a committee of representatives from owners, charterers and the International Group.

Members requiring further assistance should direct enquiries to their usual contact at the Club or to Erin Walton.