A new electronic bill of lading (eBL) application built by Hong Kong-based blockchain consortium Global Shipping Business Network (GSBN) and tech provider IQAX has been approved for use by the International Group of P&I Clubs (IGP&I).

First revealed by GTR in 2018 as a competitor to the IBM and Maersk-built platform TradeLens, GSBN was officially incorporated in March 2021 by eight global shipping lines and terminal operators – Cosco Shipping Lines, Cosco Shipping Ports, Hapag-Lloyd, Hutchison Ports, OOCL, SPG Qingdao Port, PSA International and Shanghai International Port Group – which GSBN says together account for one in every three containers handled in the world.

The platform uses technology provided by Oracle, Microsoft, AntChain and Alibaba Cloud to enable the sharing of shipping data and trade documentation among participants.

The new eBL application, built by Hong Kong technology firm IQAX and unveiled this week, means that the platform now has its own means of creating and transmitting eBLs among its members.

Using blockchain technology, the GSBN-powered eBL solution offers cargo owners, cargo forwarders, ocean carriers, finance providers and other trade participants a paperless solution to manage original bill of ladings digitally with one-click title transfers, surrender for delivery, status updates and history reviews.

Like the TradeLens eBL, which also uses the technology, eBL issuance is recorded, and an identifier of the document is saved to the blockchain. The shipper can view the issued eBL in the platform, and when ready, instantly transfer it. When the container shipment is ready to be received, the consignee can surrender back to the carrier for cargo release either digitally or, where required, revert to paper with carrier support.

The approval by IGP&I effectively gives IQAX’s eBL the same standing as paper-based solutions in terms of indemnity coverage.

Made up of 13 protection and indemnity (P&I) clubs, the IGP&I as a whole provides marine liability cover for approximately 90% of the world’s ocean-going tonnage. Previously, the IGP&I’s rules specifically excluded liabilities in respect of the carriage of cargo under all electronic systems to the extent that the liabilities under such systems would not have arisen under a traditional paper system.

This changed in February 2010, when the group decided that these liabilities would be covered, but only on systems that it had first approved. It then greenlighted electronic bills of lading (eBLs) administered by essDocs and Bolero. In 2015 it added Singapore-based eTitle to its list, and then in June 2019, edoxOnline was added – the first group-approved system to use blockchain technology, with blockchain-based digital courier platform Wave and CargoX’s blockchain-based solutions both being added to the list in 2020. In 2021, TradeLens’ system was also approved by the group. Jointly developed by Danish shipping firm Maersk and technology giant IBM, TradeLens is a blockchain-powered global trade platform focused on the shipping industry. Aside from Maersk, its ocean carrier members include Alianca, CMA CGM, Hamburg-Sud, MSC, Seaboard, Safmarine, Sealand, SPL and Zim – which is also an investor in Wave. It also counts numerous terminals, inland depots, customs authorities and intermodal providers among its members.

“The launch of the eBL application is a good example of connecting logistics with banks as part of the trade finance process, and we can soon expect to see more collaboration in this area,” says Bertrand Chen, CEO of GSBN, which last year set up a trade finance advisory group with three major banks as part of plans to link the shipping and finance sectors to facilitate end-to-end trade digitalisation.

IQAX says the new eBL has already been adopted by Cosco and OOCL, and will now be rolled out across GSBN’s other members, while the advisory group will explore using the eBL application in live customer pilots.