The International Group of P&I Clubs (IGP&I) has approved TradeLens’ electronic bill of lading (eBL) system for use by its members, taking the total number of eBLs it accepts to seven.

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 last year.

TradeLens is now the latest system 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.

Using blockchain technology, the TradeLens eBL solution is issued digitally by carriers to a shipper as a structured document. The issuance is recorded, and an identifier of the document is saved to the TradeLens 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 TradeLens’ eBL the same standing as paper-based solutions in terms of indemnity coverage.

This is the latest in a series of developments in the eBL space, as the digitalisation of the bill of lading process gathers pace. Late last year, the Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA) completed its work on standardising the eBL in order to better facilitate its acceptance by regulators, banks and insurers. Last month, Singapore amended its domestic legislation to make the electronic document legally equivalent to its paper counterpart, which eBL solution provider essDocs hailed as a “major milestone” for digital trade. And most recently, blockchain firm R3 entered the space, launching its own eBL solution into beta, five months after buying the legal framework from eTitle.