APL v. Voss Peer

Home ] Up ] Voss Peer v. APL ]

APL Co Pte Ltd v Peer Voss
Singapore Court of Appeal: Chao Hick Tin JA, Tan Lee Meng J: 3 October 2002

Ang & Partners for APL
Drew & Napier for Voss Peer
The issue decided in this case is whether, in relation to a straight bill of lading, i.e. one that makes the goods deliverable to a specific person as consignee, without the words "to order", the carrier may deliver the goods to the named consignee without production of the bill of lading. The Court of Appeal upheld the High Court’s decision that the carrier, in this case, APL, may not do so, and was in breach of contract to the shipper, Peer Voss, in delivering the goods to the consignee without production of the bill of lading.

DMC Category Rating: Developed

This case note has been contributed by Ang & Partners, International Contributors to the website for Singapore

Voss Peer shipped a car from Germany to his buyer, Seohwan in Korea, under a bill of lading issued by APL. The bill of lading named "Seohwan" as consignee, without the words "To Order" after the consignee’s name. Voss Peer had received part payment of the price. Seohwan took delivery of the car in Korea by producing copies of an invoice and a bank cable purportedly showing payment of the balance of the price. Voss Peer alleged that he never received the balance of the price and sued APL for the balance.

Voss Peer alleged that APL was in breach of contract, breach of its duty as bailee and/or had failed to exercise due care in delivering the car without requiring production of the original bill of lading.

APL argued that as a straight bill of lading is non-negotiable and cannot be endorsed to a third party, like a sea waybill, it does not have to be produced to the carrier for the consignee to take delivery.

The High Court judge, Judith Prakash J., gave judgment for Voss Peer. She held that the carrier was not entitled to deliver the cargo shipped under a straight bill of lading without production of the bill of lading. She held that a straight bill of lading is not the same as a sea waybill. For a note on that judgment, click here

APL appealed to the Court of Appeal, which dismissed the appeal.

The court of appeal held as follows:
1. It is settled law that there is no requirement for a consignee to present a sea waybill to the carrier before he can take delivery of the goods.
2. There is no case law, and textbook writers are not unanimous, on whether a straight bill of lading is to be equated with a sea waybill so that the carrier is not obliged to deliver the goods only upon its production. The issue must be resolved on the basis of contract law and the intention of the parties.
3. While it is true that a straight bill of lading is substantially similar in effect to a sea waybill (in that both are non-transferable), that is not to say that they are the same. While the characteristic of transferability is absent in a straight bill of lading, there is no reason why one should thereby infer that the parties intended to do away with the other main characteristic of a bill of lading, i.e., delivery upon presentation. Clear words must be present to imply that the parties intended the instrument to be treated, in all respects, as a sea waybill and that its presentation by the named consignee is not necessary. If the parties had wanted to have a sea waybill, they would not have issued a bill of lading with three originals. By issuing the instrument as a bill of lading, it must mean that they wished to retain all the other features of a bill of lading, other than the characteristic of transferability.
4. The rule requiring production as a pre-requisite to delivery has the advantage of certainty and would prevent confusion and avoid the shipowners having to decide whether a bill is a straight bill or an order bill and run the risk attendant thereto if the determination they make on that point should turn out to be erroneous.
5. It is overly restrictive to limit the categories of documents which could be used by shippers to two categories: either a negotiable bill of lading which must be presented for delivery, or a straight bill of lading or sea waybill which need not be produced for delivery. To hold that a straight bill of lading is not the same as a sea waybill has the advantage of providing a seller or the bank issuing a documentary credit, with some security against default by the buyer, and the buyer with some assurance that the seller has shipped the cargo before he is required to make payment. A sea waybill, unlike a bill of lading, cannot be used as a security to obtain financing.
6. Adopting the rule that a straight bill of lading is a pre-requisite to obtaining delivery also avoids the undesirable consequences of the shipper’s rights of suit under the original contract of carriage surviving any transfer of the document to the consignee. 


These Case Notes have been prepared with care, but neither the Editor nor the International and other Contributors can guarantee that they are free from error, nor that they contain every pertinent point. Reliance should not therefore be placed upon them without independent verification. The Editor and the International and other Contributors disclaim all liability for any loss of whatsoever nature and howsoever arising as a result of others acting or refraining from acting in reliance on the contents of this website and the information to which it gives access. The Editor claims copyright in the content of the website.