Absence of legal backing stalls adoption of e-bill of lading in Nigeria

The absence of a recognised legal framework has been identified as the main challenge to the widespread acceptance of an e-bill of lading in Nigeria.

Mohammed Bello-Koko, managing director of the NPA, disclosed this at the 13th annual general meeting and lecture of the Nigerian Maritime Law Association (NMLA) with the theme, ‘21st Century Technology and its Applications to the Maritime Sector: E-Bills of Lading, Autonomous Shipping, and Maritime Security.’

He said Nigeria needs legislation that would serve as a legal framework to facilitate the acceptance and use of the electronic bill of lading in Nigeria.

Bello-Koko, who was represented by Leonard Onoja, the principal manager, Legal of NPA, said the development of modern ships with advanced technology has made it possible for ships to arrive at the destination port before the bill of lading, which results in costly delays.

He said the United Nations Conference on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), has attempted to bridge the gap by creating two laws on electronic transferable records including the Rotterdam Rules 2008 and the Model Law on Electronics Transferable Records (MLETR) 2017.

“The Rotterdam Rules is a treaty proposing new international rules to revise the legal framework for maritime affreightment and carriage of goods by sea. It provides for e-bill of lading but has not gained wide acceptance while the MLETR enables the legal use of electronic transfer of records such as a bill of lading, bills of exchange, promissory notes, and warehouse receipts.

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“There is a need to amend existing laws or make new laws to incorporate the principles of the MLETR into our domestic laws and put the required infrastructure in place for the use of e-bill of lading. This would in turn remove any legal uncertainty and make parties free to use e-bill of lading to govern their transactions,” he added.

He said the NPA would welcome and support steps for the establishment of an enabling legal framework for both the Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) and the electronic bill of lading.

Bello-Koko however said that the Authority has the electronic ship entry notice (e-SEN) platform which allows shipping companies to upload cargo manifests and other documents, and process ship entry in Nigeria.

He further said that the coming onstream of the Lekki Deep Seaport would boost port operations, and see to the deployment of some of the latest technology in port operations in line with the NPA’s ultimate goal of realising the smart port objective by 2030.

On his part, Andrew Lynch, managing director of Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), said 50 percent of all bills of lading in the world would be electronic by 2030.

The digital switch to the electronic bill of lading, he said, would help the maritime industry move towards reducing the cost of doing business incurred as a result of the delay, save time and reduce greenhouse emissions associated with the production of physical paper.

Lynch said the electronic bill of lading would ensure the safekeeping of the documents for future purposes.

According to him, the transition to e-B/L which was necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic will reduce human interface at ports.

Funke Agbor, the president of the Nigerian Maritime Law Association, said there is a need for industry stakeholders to contribute to the industry as it moves towards digitisation.

“There are risks involved in autonomous shipping and they must be dealt with because the world is changing,” she said.

A bill of lading is a document that contains the details of the goods carried on the ship. It is a negotiable document that enables the transfer of title to the goods without the physical transfer of the goods being necessary.

An electronic bill of trading (eB/L) is the digital equivalent of a paper bill of lading.

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