Our Services

Charter Parties and Bills of Lading

At SMA, our maritime lawyers take special pride in advising our clients on the legal framework that governs the carriage of goods by sea. As well as drafting watertight contracts for vessel owners and charterers, we deliver robust representation through all forms of charter party dispute. Bringing specialist knowledge and extensive experience in the subject of charter parties and bills of lading, you can count on our shipping lawyers to deal with your matter efficiently and ensure the best outcome. 

What are Charter Parties and Bills of Lading?

In shipping law, the majority of contracts that govern the transportation of goods are made by bills of lading or charter parties.

Bills of lading are the foundation of nearly all contracts of carriage by sea. These legal documents contain a precise itinerary of all items being transported; they are given to charterers by vessel owners as an acknowledgement of the goods specified to be taken aboard for a voyage. Once signed, a bill of lading becomes binding upon the ship owner and serves as evidence of contract of carriage of the goods. For transactions of this nature, bills of lading can be critical in circumventing potential disputes surrounding the delivery of the goods and their condition at arrival.

Charter party is the term used to describe any one of three types of shipping contracts that deal with the commercial use of vessels owned by other parties. This could be a demise charter, whereby possession of the ship is given to a charterer who takes responsibility for the master and crew during the voyage and arranges for any repairs or necessary supplies. Alternatively, charterers can acquire the right to direct the ship’s movements during a charter period as well as deciding which goods will be transported: this is known as a time charter. Should a charterer wish to rent all or part of the cargo space for a voyage to one or more places, they can do so under a voyage charter.

How can we help?

The legal issues that can arise from shipping transactions are many, as are the international conventions that govern the contracts of carriage and control how disputes will be resolved. No matter the nature of your issue, you can count on SMA’s skilled team of shipping lawyers to deliver strategic advice supported by decades of industry experience.

From minor damage of goods to complete loss of cargo, our maritime lawyers act on a vast range of contractual disputes for clients across the global shipping industry. Our expertise includes but is not limited to:

  • Non-payment of hire
  • Quantity/quality problems
  • Major cargo loss
  • Multi-jurisdictional legal disputes​
  • Laytime and demurrage
  • Dangerous cargoes
  • Letters of indemnity
  • Inter-club agreement

What to expect from SMA shipping lawyers

At SMA, we proudly deliver dynamic legal services in shipping law on a global scale. Our dedicated team comprises of highly-skilled maritime lawyers who are passionate about what they do and committed to protecting the interests of our clients through contractual disputes. Boasting a vast network of international contacts and an innovative technology-led infrastructure, SMA is best placed to provide effective legal solutions as soon as an issue arises. Beyond convenience, it’s the personalised service we provide that has earned us a reputation in the global shipping community.

Whether you’re currently involved in a dispute regarding a charter party or bill of lading or simply need proactive assistance in mitigating the risks of potential claims, you will receive direct contact with the main partners of our firm to ensure effective resolution and a fair outcome with minimal disruption to your operations.


For further information or to speak to one of our experts please contact us