TT Talk - The expressions ‘O/B’ and ‘C/O’ on carriage documents


  • Date: 20/07/2008
  • Source: TT Talk 110

The Hong Kong Association of Freight Forwarding and Logistics Ltd (HAFFA) provides a number of interesting ‘Recommended Practices’ on its website www.haffa.com.hk. HAFFA RP013 examines the expressions ‘O/B’ and ‘C/O’ which are sometimes used in the ‘shipper’ or ‘consignee’ boxes on the front of carriage documents. HAFFA RP013 explains that customers from Mainland China, who do not have a presence in Hong Kong to organise or handle their exports or imports through Hong Kong, ask Hong Kong forwarders to ‘lend their names’ for use in the ‘shipper’ or ‘consignee’ box of the relevant bill of lading or sea waybill.

a) ‘O/B’

http://www.haffa.com.hk/files/HAFFA_RP013_ob_co.doc

In ‘Forwarderlaw.com’, Mr Vlad Cioarec (International Trade Consultant, Romania) examines the related issue whether a forwarder, who is named ‘ABC Logistics on behalf of (name of exporter)’, is entitled to endorse the bill:

www.forwarderlaw.com/library/view.php

According to HAFFA RP013, the expression ‘o/b’ (eg. ABC Forwarder o/b China Trading) is the short form of ‘on behalf of'’, which indicates that ‘ABC Forwarder’ acts as agent of ‘China Trading’, ie. the expression ‘O/B’ is not likely to make ‘ABC Forwarder’ the consignee under the bill of lading or sea waybill. However, HAFFA RP013 then explains that the expression ‘O/B’ in the consignee box might suggest that ‘ABC Forwarder’ has (apparent) authority to receive the goods for ‘China Trading', his principal. In any case, HAFFA RP013 recommends that the carrier demands clear evidence of that ‘China Trading’ authorised ‘ABC Forwarder’ and equally that 'ABC Forwarder' would be well advised to obtain such clear evidence.

b) ‘C/O’

Conversely, the expression ‘c/o’ (eg. China Trading c/o ABC Forwarder) stands for ‘care of'’, which is generally used for addressing correspondence through an intermediary, in which case ‘ABC Forwarder’ acts on behalf of ‘China Trading’ for the limited purpose of receiving and passing on correspondence. With regard to release of cargo, HAFFA RP013 again recommends that the carrier demands production of a written authorisation (or other satisfactory evidence) which shows that ‘China Trading’ authorised ‘ABC Forwarder’ to take delivery of the goods. However, HAFFA RP013 warns that a carrier could argue that ‘C/O’ has the ‘wider’ meaning of ‘in the care of' or ‘in the charge of’, in which case it might justifiably deliver the goods to ‘ABC Forwarder’.

c) Conclusion

HAFFA RP013 provides welcome guidance. It appears to indicate that both ‘O/B’ and ‘C/O’ might have more than one meaning. Clearly, as HAFFA RP013 emphasised, ascertaining the meaning of ‘O/B’ and ‘C/O’ requires consideration of all relevant documents and surrounding circumstances.

One problem for a forwarder or transport operator who accepts the expressions ‘O/B’ or ‘C/O’ onhis carriage document is that, while ‘O/B’ or ‘C/O’ might designate an agency contract between the two named parties, the nature or scope of this agency contract may be unclear. Arguably, the expressions ‘O/B’ and ‘C/O’ add another dimension to the already rather complex topic of cargo delivery. The Club therefore advises its Members to avoid using the expressions ‘O/B’ and ‘C/O’ whenever this is commercially viable.

Apart from complicating delivery, ‘O/B’ and ‘C/O’ might also obscure which party is entitled to sue under the carriage document, although in Freight Systems Ltd v Korea Shipping Corporation (1988) the Hong Kong High Court held that ‘Freight Systems Ltd o/b Marianne Trading Ltd’ meant that Freight Systems were acting clearly as agents and therefore could not sue for an alleged breach of bill of lading terms.

Please use the following web link for the full text of HAFFA RP013 of 13 November 2007:

24 Hour Claims Hotline
+44 7000 882582

Through Transport Mutual Insurance Association Limited and TT Club Mutual Insurance Limited, trading as the TT Club. TT Club Mutual Insurance Limited, registered in the UK (Company number: 02657093) is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority and Prudential Regulation Authority. In Hong Kong, TT Club Mutual Insurance Limited is authorised and regulated by the Hong Kong Insurance Authority, in Singapore by the Monetary Authority of Singapore and in Australia by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority. In the United States, TT Club Mutual Insurance Limited is approved as a surplus lines insurer in all states and is accessible through properly licensed surplus lines brokers. The registered offices are: 90 Fenchurch Street, London, EC3M 4ST.

Through Transport Mutual Insurance Association Limited, registered in Bermuda (Company number: 1750) is authorised and regulated in Bermuda by the Bermuda Monetary Authority and is authorised in the UK by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority and Prudential Regulation Authority.

The UK VAT Identification number for Through Transport Mutual Insurance Association Limited is: GB 564 5244 35 and for TT Club Mutual Insurance Limited is: GB 564 3375 30. The Italian VAT Identification number for TT Club Mutual Ltd is: 03627210101.