Swiss-Italian shipping giant MSC, a member of blockchain-powered global trade platform TradeLens, is introducing Wave BL’s electronic bill of lading (eBL) for its customers around the world, following two years of pilot testing.

The solution, which MSC is launching today, uses distributed ledger technology to enable shippers and other supply chain stakeholders to receive and transmit the bill of lading electronically through a secure, decentralised network – helping reduce delays caused by traditional paper documents, and also reducing the risk of fraud or duplication.

“Traditionally, the shipping industry has relied quite heavily on physical paper documents. And among these, the bill of lading is the most important transport document in international trade,” says André Simha, global chief digital and information officer at MSC. “While there have been attempts to create an eBL solution in the past, we are now in a position to introduce a solution that can pave the way to mass eBL adoption, which will mean significant savings for the shipping industry.”

Despite numerous solutions on the market, the eBL currently makes up just 0.1% of all bill of lading issuances – due in large part to the fact that electronic documents are not considered to be equivalent to paper ones in most jurisdictions. This, however, is changing, with the introduction in Singapore and Bahrain of the UNCITRAL model law on electronic transferable records (MLETR). Meanwhile, in a further attempt to boost take-up, the Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA), an industry body of which MSC’s Simha is the chairman – has led a standardisation drive to facilitate acceptance of the eBL by regulators, banks and insurers.

Speaking to GTR recently, some eBL solution providers expressed a view that this standardisation might lead to consolidation in the sector, but this appears to be far from the case: this month, tech firm R3 launched its own eBL solution into beta, five months after buying the legal framework from Singapore-based eBL provider eTitle. Furthermore, TradeLens’ blockchain-driven solution has just been approved by the International Group of P&I Clubs (IGP&I) for its members.

MSC tells GTR that its decision to use the Wave eBL is based around usability. “MSC has chosen Wave BL because it is the only solution that mirrors the traditional paper-based process that the shipping and cargo transportation industry is used to,” says Simha. “It provides a digital alternative to all the possibilities available with traditional print documents, just much faster and more secure.” However, he adds that MSC is also “exploring other eBL platforms to adapt to market demands”, with TradeLens being one of them.

The Wave eBL service is being made available free of charge throughout the rest of the year for exporters, importers and traders, with users only paying for issuing the original documents.