Bills of lading have been known from at least the thirteenth century. At that times shippers (usually the owners of the goods) as a rule accompanied their cargoes on the voyage to destination and bill of lading served only as an invoice of the goods shipped.
Later, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when larger ships has begun to carry varied cargoes belonging to several shippers this practice gradually came to naught and it became the custom to incorporate the terms of the contract of carriage into bill of lading.
Finally to meet requirements of businessmen who wished to sell the goods before the vessel reached its destination bill of lading extended its status to a document of title. Thus at the end of the eighteenth century bill of lading was characterised as:
In the normal course of business you might have come across the term Switch Bill of Lading.. A “Switch” bill of lading is the second set of bill of lading that may be issued by the carrier (or agent) in exchange for the first set of bill of lading originally issued when the shipment was effected..
Why does one ask for or require a Switch bill of lading..?? Switch bills are requested generally when there has been a change in the original trading conditions.. Some of the reasons could be :
- Goods could have been resold and the discharge port has now been changed to another port and this could have occurred as a high-seas sale..
- The seller (who could be an intending agent) does not wish the name of the actual exporter to be known to the consignee in case the consignee strikes a deal with the exporter directly..
- The seller does not want to know the buyer to know the actual country of origin of the cargo so he requests that the port of loading be shown as some port other than the one the cargo was loaded from..
- The goods were shipped originally in small parcels, and the buyer requires one bill of lading covering all of the parcels..