Eastern Europe Shipping Blog

Expert tips on smarter shipping between the U.S. and Eastern Europe, including shipping of heavy goods.

Why Book Global Shipments Using an NVOCC Bill of Lading

I.C.E. Transport | Jul 14, 2023 8:36:50 AM | heavyweight freight, ocean shipping


There are a lot of ways to ship your goods these days, and even more companies to choose from. Where do you begin?

If you’re trying to save money or transporting something bulky, then you’re likely shipping by sea. From there, you have three options: booking with a steamship line (SSL), a freight forwarder, or a forwarder that is also a non-vessel operating common carrier (NVOCC).  


What’s the difference?

NVOCC-bill-of-lading-475828447Steamship line, aka SSL: Also known as a shipping line or a carrier, an SSL is a company that owns and operates ships for transporting goods. When you book directly with an SSL, you’re dealing with the carrier that will physically transport your goods.

Most SSLs offer door-to-door services, in addition to sea freight (more on that below).


Freight forwarder: A freight forwarder acts as an intermediary between you and all the logistics services you may need. It’s an agent – a company that performs transactions on behalf of a customer, similar to a real estate agent or an insurance agent.

When you have cargo to ship, the freight forwarder works with various service providers – such as ocean carriers, trucking companies, warehouses and customs brokers – to make the arrangements on your behalf. Those other companies perform the actual services. The forwarder gives them the necessary information and documentation, orchestrates their work and keeps track of their progress.


NVOCC: An NVOCC is an ocean carrier, providing transportation services almost exactly like an SSL. The main difference is that an SSL owns vessels and shipping containers, while an NVOCC does not. Instead, an NVOCC pays SSLs for the use of their vessels and containers and then makes those assets available to customers with cargo to ship.

NVOCCs provide freight forwarding services, too. For example, an NVOCC might arrange drayage trucking services to transport your containers to and from port. It can provide special trucking services for heavy or overweight freight. It might also help you with customs clearance agent services.

Essentially, an NVOCC can provide any service a freight forwarder can. But the similarity doesn’t run both ways since not all forwarders are NVOCCs.

For more basics on international shipping, read our guide on international shipping for small business.



Enter the Door to Door Bill of Lading

One big advantage that an NVOCC has is its authority to issue an NVOCC bill of lading to the cargo owner.

A bill of lading is a legal document that describes your cargo and serves as a contract between carrier and cargo owner to transport those goods safely between two specified locations, such as from Port A to Port B, or from door to door.

Say you’re in Dayton, Ohio, and you’re buying a container of unassembled machinery from a seller in central Lithuania. Your first decision is how to book the door to door shipment. You could book through an SSL, but unfortunately, they don’t always come through on their landside services – especially in times of port congestion and capacity shortages.

Many shippers seek alternatives to SSLs for door to door cargo shipping because the costly delays are common once containers hit the port.

Your next thought might be to call a Lithuanian freight forwarder. But if that overseas forwarder isn’t an NVOCC, that would be a mistake. Here’s why.

With an NVOCC bill of lading, the NVOCC takes responsibility for your cargo from the point of origin to the point of delivery listed on the bill – often from door to door. It can arrange any necessary ground transportation. It monitors the cargo and keeps you informed about its progress. If damage occurs along the way, the NVOCC will handle the claim with the underlying carrier. If delays occur, it may be able to find workarounds. Whatever happens, you have one point of contact.

A true door to door bill of lading isn’t possible when you work with a freight forwarder that isn’t also an NVOCC. Here, multiple bills of lading are often involved – from the overseas trucker, the SSL and landside delivery – and each carrier has its own set of responsibilities and obligations.

This multi-bill scenario can introduce complexities that need to be navigated with caution:

  • Miscommunication and coordination. Each carrier may have different operating procedures, communication channels and documentation requirements. Without careful coordination and clear lines of communication, delays, misrouting or even loss of goods can occur.
  • Lack of accountability and tracing responsibility. In a multi-carrier scenario, determining who is responsible for any damage or loss can become a daunting task. If an issue arises, the finger-pointing begins, and it may not be immediately apparent which carrier is accountable.
  • Incomplete or inconsistent documentation. With each carrier generating its own bill of lading, there is a risk of incomplete or inconsistent documentation. Inaccurate or missing information can lead to delays at customs, problems with insurance claims, and legal disputes.
  • Insurance gaps and coverage challenges. Insurance policies must account for each leg of the transportation and the specific risks associated with each carrier. Failure to address these details can result in coverage gaps, leaving your cargo vulnerable to loss or damage without proper compensation.


Read more: ​​International Door to Door Shipping: A Single Source Is Best



NVOCC Bill of Lading

Once you understand the advantages an NVOCC – and an NVOCC bill of lading – can offer, it’s not hard to choose which kind of company to call for ocean freight services that requires door to door service. The solution is to work with an NVOCC whose portfolio includes a full range of freight forwarding services. Then you’ll get the best of both worlds.

To forge a partnership with an NVOCC that offers all the logistics services you need for a successful, global door to door shipment, contact the experts at I.C.E. Transport.


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