The reason why there are 3 bills of lading
Bills of lading (B/L) are very important documents when one is shipping freight internationally. A B/L is a document that verifies that the carrier has received the goods and that the consignee is entitled to receive the goods by submitting it to the carrier’s destination agent. This means that the bill of lading verifies the legal right to claim the freight. The original is required; without it, the consignee at the destination cannot receive the shipment. One can receive cargo in exchange for it. In this sense, a bill of lading is like a check-in exchange for which one can receive money and the original is required. Therefore, the shipper must somehow send the original bill of lading to the consignee in the destination country.
So, the original is required. Why, then, are there 3 original bills of lading?
While it is sometimes said that there are 3 original bills of lading, they are typically called “original”, “duplicate” and “triplicate”. They may also be called “first original”, “second original” and “third original”, respectively.
Imagine a situation in which there is only one original and you send it by post (possibly by registered mail or EMS). As is often the case with international mail, it could get lost. If the original were to get lost, the presence of more than one original means that you have the opportunity to send the second original (duplicate). When sending the bill of lading the second time around, you might want to change the shipping method and send it by a courier such as DHL or FedEx Express. While mail can—and does—get lost, it is quite unlikely that the same thing will happen the second time you send it (i.e., when you send the second original). Therefore, it makes sense to have more than one original bill of ladings. If the same thing happens to the second original, then perhaps one could conclude that there is something very wrong with the delivery system in that region of the world. In this case, the shipper can have the third original bill of lading brought to the carrier’s destination office at the origin and have the bill of lading surrendered there.
For more information about surrendering the bill of lading at the origin, visit the following page, which explains what a surrender bill of lading is. Some shippers who export for the first time may make the mistake of sending all 3 original bills of lading at the same time. This would be taking a big risk. Each original must be sent one by one.
Again, there are 3 original bills of lading because a risk is involved in sending the bills of lading to the consignee (i.e., the possibility of loss). Nowadays, surrendered bills of lading or waybills are used to minimize the risk of trouble resulting from the non-delivery of the bill of lading.