NMLA : MSC Forecasts 50% Transition to Electronic Bill of Lading by 2030

NMLA  : MSC Forecasts 50% Transition to Electronic Bill of Lading by 2030
... as the maritime industry moves towards autonomous shipping

With the Maritime Industry evolving towards digitisation and adoption of technological innovations, the Managing Director, Mediterranean Shipping Company, (MSC) Mr Andrew Lynch, has said that come 2030, 50 per cent of all bills of lading in the world would be electronic.

This is coming on the heel of the International Maritime Organisation's (IMO) move to effect mandatory convention for Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship (MASS) by January 1, 2028.

The digital switch to electronic Bill of Lading (eB/L), he said, would help the maritime industry move towards reducing the cost of doing business incurred as a result of delay, save time, reduce green house emissions associated with production of physical paper document.

He said that the electronic bill of lading would ensure safe keeping of the documents for future purposes.

 Lynch made the disclosure during the 13th Annual General Meeting and Lecture of the Nigerian Maritime Law Association (NMLA)in Lagos during the weekend.

He opined that the transition to eB/L which was necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic has broadened the outlook of shipping by encouraging reduced human interface as the industry moves into the future.

"By 2030, we expect that 50 per cent of all bill of lading issued by our company and when I say our company I mean the industry because the other companies are in step with us, so 50 per cent of all bill of lading in the world would be digital.

"This is a relatively new technology. The terms and conditions are the same with the physical bill of lading. It doesn't change anything at all.

" Signatures can be electronically provided. Almost all the countries in West Africa now have an active eB/L registering on the platform and transacting to some extent. 

"Current usage accounts for less than 5 per cent of our total transactions but that is still a huge number," Lynch said.

With only eight years to achieve this feat, Lynch expressed optimism about the transition to the eB/L system stating that the gains of the transition far outweighs the physical system which is currently being used.

He added that as the industry looks towards adoption of autonomous shipping for long distance voyages as proposed by the IMO with the mandatory regulations of the MASS underway.

 Lynch said that the  idea of autonomous shipping is still in the conceptual stage as questions regarding the ship's maintenance, possible collision and safety are issues which may not permit total autonomy of maritime surface ships.

Throwing her weight behind the MSC Boss, Mrs Jean Anishere, (SAN), stated that with the provisions of section 84:2:4 of the Evidence Act, presentation of electronic documents as evidence in court was tenable to ascertain a claim hence the switch to the eB/L system is a step in the right direction for the industry.

Anishere also mentioned that Nigeria as a member state of the IMO would adopt the conventions of the MASS when it comes into force, discussions on the possibility of maritime autonomous cargo ships should be welcomed.

Her words: "With the IMO codes coming to force on January 1, 2028, there will be huge benefits for the industry as it would help to fast track the industry's development.

"World wide, there are now more than 1,000 autonomous surface ships operating in more than 53 organisations. 

"So having regulations for autonomous shipping is very key."

She said that the paper bill of lading could get lost which which could delay the processing adding that time is money adding that all the shipping document could be done through digital.

Anishere said that maritime security was a life large for infrastructural trade adding that there was need for Nigeria Government to intensified more efforts to enable the other African countries like Gulf of Guinea to be aware of piracy policies.

She said that the Secretary General of IMO visited Nigeria recently to check the Deep Blue Sea Port project saying that Nigeria had collaborated with other African nation on CHADE Forum to supress sea robbery.

Anishere said that autonomous would be used for short voyage would create lot of jobs for seafarers. 

In a Zoom, Director And Head of Africa Practice Incisive Law LLC, Singapore, Mr Whole Olufunwa, said there was need to change the old way of doing things and reduced human elements in shipping and Cargo movement.

Olufunwa said that the autonomous operation would stopped all delays in shipping and improve trade efficient.

The Chief Judge, Federal High Court, Justice, Tsoho Terhembra, who was represented by Mr Olayinka Faji, urged NMLA to get more judges into the association to improve foreigners interest in making Nigeria the port of destinations.

Terhemvra said that availability of more judges would also improved foreigners confidence in  Nigeria adding that it would also help to to tackle maritime issues that where begging for attention.

He commended the efforts of the NMLA under the leadership of Mrs Funke Agbor, for commitment and strong leadership in ensuring that Nigeria remains the cargo huge in West and Central Africa.

In his key notes address the Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Mr Muhammed Koko, Who was represented by the Principal Manager, Legal of NPA, Mr Leonard Onoja, commended the effort of NMLA for creating solution to some of the challenges affecting shipping operations in Nigeria.

Koko said that NPA would welcome and support steps for the establishment of the enabling legal framework for both the martime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS), and the electronic Bill of lading projects.

He said that the coming on stream   of the  Lekki Deep-sea port in September 2022 would boost port operations and see to the deployment of some of the latest technology in port operations.

Koko added that The Authority ultimate goal was to the realisation of the smart port objective by 2030.

He said that there was huge efficiency in the port operation since 2006 the Federal Government Concessioned the ports.

Koko said that Nigeria had recorded a lot of improvement on port infrastructure, port access roads among others.

He said that Government had also empowered the Nigerian Shippers' Council with the responsible of Port Economy Regulator to ease port  operations.


In her welcome remarks, the President of the Nigerian Maritime Law Association, Mrs Funke Agbor, (SAN) noted the need for industry stakeholders to contribute to the industry as it moves towards digitisation.

"The NMLA as stakeholders, we want to present the opportunity to other stakeholders so that we can help with our own expertise. 

"There are risks involved in autonomous shipping and these are things that must be dealt with because the world is changing. 

"We will look at what they are doing elsewhere and see if there is some legislation that we can use that can be adapted to that purpose," Agbor  said.

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