TT Talk - Carrier's duty to deliver under a Straight Bill of Lading

In a judgment delivered earlier this month, in the case of APL Co Pte Ltd v Peer Voss, the Court of Appeal in Singapore has held that a carrier is not entitled to deliver goods carried under a straight bill of lading, without production of that bill of lading by the named consignee. A straight bill of lading is a non-transferable/non-negotiable bill of lading, in which the consignee is named/identified. It differs from a negotiable bill of lading, where the consignee is expressed as 'to order' or equivalent.

The decision is an important one, since it establishes for the first time in Singaporean law that a straight bill of lading is different from a sea waybill, the presentation of which is not a prerequisite to delivery by the carrier. As regards production on delivery, there is now no difference between a negotiable bill of lading and a straight bill. In both cases, the carrier is at risk if he delivers without requiring the bill of lading to be produced in exchange for the goods. In the case of a straight bill, the consignee claiming delivery must in addition identify himself as the person named as the consignee in the bill.

The decision is contrary to current industry practice, which tends to equate straight bills with sea waybills, but it may be followed in other jurisdictions. For example, the English Court of Appeal, in the recent case of 'The Happy Ranger' indicated that it might not be wise to rely on the textbooks, most of which have to date agreed that a straight bill need not be produced as a pre-requisite to delivery. The effect of the decision on industry practice is currently under debate, and we will keep readers of TT Talk informed, as discussions progress.