At present, the current international agreements for regulation of sea freight transportation are substantially outdated. Since the time of their approval, sea freight transportation has faced serious changes both technical and commercial: the expansion of container shipping, the pursuit of door-to-door shipping under a single document, the developing practice of using electronic transport documents.

To create legal relations in the sphere of sea transport, a contract between two or more parties involved in transportation of goods must be signed.

In contrast to air, rail, and road transportations, the contract for sea freight transportation exists in two forms that correspond with the two main types of ship transport. In case of liner shipping, bill of lading is issued; for occasional transportation (also referred to as tramp transportation) a charter party is issued.

Regulation of international multimodal and combined transportations

The issue of unified norms of international and multimodal transportations was first raised at Stockholm Conference of the International Chamber of Commerce, 1927. However, it hadn’t been until 1980 that the United Nations Convention on International Multimodal Transport of Goods was adopted by the UN/IMO.

The Preamble to the Convention consists of general principles, eight parts, and two appendices.

In the first part (general contents) the definition of the international multimodal transport of goods is given as well as the definition of multimodal transport operator, the scope of application, and the regulation and control of multimodal transport.

International multimodal transportation means the carriage of goods by at least two different modes of transport on the basis of a multimodal transport contract from a place in one country at which the goods are taken in charge by the multimodal transport operator to a place designated for delivery situated in a different country.

The second part presents the contents of the multimodal transport document, the procedure of its issue, reservations and evidentiary effect.

The third part introduces the responsibility of the multimodal transport operator which covers the period of the time he takes the goods in his charge to the time of their delivery and the liability of the multimodal transport operator for his servants, agents and other persons.

The fourth part is devoted to the consignor. It establishes his liability for the loss sustained by the multimodal transport operator if such loss is caused by the fault or neglect of the consignor, or his servants or agents. This part also places responsibility on the consignor of abiding by the rules on dangerous goods.

The fifth part (claims and actions) describes the notice of loss, damage or delay, limitation, jurisdiction, and arbitration.

The part on supplementary provisions (the sixth part) deals with contractual stipulations that may be made by the multimodal transport operator and shall be null or void under the provisions of this Convention, general provisions and their legal regulation concerning general average, and discusses the notion of the monetary unit and its conversion.

The eighth part covers customs transit, including transit documents relating to transport of goods via the customs territory of a third country.

The final, eighth part concentrates on depositary, signature, ratification, acceptance, approval, accession, etc.

The Convention provisions are applied regardless of the nationality of the carrier, vessel, consignor, consignee or any person involved. The Convention is not applied to charterers.

According to the Convention, multimodal transport operator means any person who on his own behalf or through another person acting on his behalf concludes a multimodal transport contract and who acts as a principal, not as an agent. He also assumes responsibility for the performance of the contract. The multimodal transport operator is responsible for the completion of the carriage and for the safety of the goods from the time he takes the goods in his charge to the time of their delivery. One of the main tasks of the multimodal transport operator is the quotation of through rates calculated for the whole route of transportation and built with account of shipping costs by different modes of transport, transfer, storage, insurance, customs formalities, etc.

The Convention on International Multimodal Transport of Goods shall enter into force 12 months after the governments of 30 states have either signed it not subject to ratification or have deposited instruments of ratification, acceptance, or accession with the depositary – the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Multimodal transportations have become very common in international and inland transportations; they allow rational distribution of transportation load over multiple modes of transport, to maximize their carrying capacity and save transportation costs. However, the major disadvantage of this type of transportation is cargo handling at the points of change of transport.

The term “combined transportation” means movement of goods in one and the same transport unit using multiple modes of transport. The network of international combined transportations includes railway lines, combined transport terminals, border crossing points, gauge interchange stations, ferry links/ports that are of importance to the international intermodal transportations.

Combination of transport occurs in two directions:

  1. transportations in a specifically designed transport units or means used for freight transportation by different modes of transport (container, swap-body, lighter, semitrailer, truck, etc.);
  2. transportations with the use of one mode of transport on another one (a loaded vehicle by railroad, a loaded wagon by sea ferry, etc.).

Since the development of combined transportations is of great importance, the member states of the UN/ECE originated the group of experts for researching the ways of development of these transportations in the European region and working on the project of the European agreement on important international combined transport lines and related installations (AGTC). It was established at the meeting of the ECE Inland Transport Committee in 1990.


International regulations of multimodal and combined transportations

The International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA) was founded in Vienna on 31. May, 1926 by 16 national freight forwarding associations. In the period from 1926 to 1939 the organization consisted of 20 national associations. It stopped its activity during World War II, and restarted in 1949.

FIATA is a non-governmental, non-profit international organization, the main aim of which is to pursue the interest of forwarders on the international level. The main objectives of this organization are:

  1. to unite the freight forwarding industry worldwide and to familiarize the public with the services by freight forwarders through distribution of publications and other means of attracting public attention;
  2. to improve the quality of services of FIATA members by developing and promoting uniform trading conditions, exchange of information, and carrying out research;
  3. to protect the interests of the industry by participating as advisors or experts in meetings of other international bodies;
  4. vocational training on the international level;
  5. to seek answers to technical problems as a part of committee work;
  6. to promote establishing of good business relations and the worldwide solidarity of forwarders;
  7. to develop cooperation with carriers and their organizations;
  8. to strengthen the connection with export firms and their organizations;
  9. to promote development of international trade and the exchange of goods between countries;
  10. to build a relationship of goodwill and friendship between all parties involved in the process of transportation.

According to FIATA statute, FIATA members may be association members and individual members.

Association members are national forwarding associations or private forwarding companies from the countries where there are no national associations. Individual members are private forwarding companies, customs representatives, etc. (if approved by national organizations where FIATA has association members).Admission to membership must be approved by the Executive Committee.

The main current work of FIATA takes place in its technical committees and work groups. In recent years the Committee on sea and combined transportations has been considering the question of relationships between forwarders and sea liner conferences in relation to receiving commission from the conference for attracting and forwarding the goods shipped on the vessels that belong to the members of the conference. In connection with the report “Relationships between the interested parties in combined freight transportation” made by the UNCTAD secretariat, FIATA raised the question of including a section on forwarders operating as multimodal transport operators, where the role of forwarders must be underlined. One of the major achievements of FIATA is the introduction of the forwarding documents that have been recognized all over the world. They are: forwarder’s cargo receipt (FCR), forwarders certificate of transport (FCT), FIATA bill of lading (FBL), FIATA warehouse receipt (FWR) and shippers declaration of transport of dangerous goods (SDT), approved by FIATA.

Transportations that require special transport chains include container shipping, transport of perishable goods and combined railway-road transportations (contrailer).




Container means an article of transport equipment that is of a permanent character and accordingly strong enough to be suitable for repeated use; it is designed to transport cargo by one or more modes of transport without intermediate separate handling of the cargo and, considering the need of convenient securement and handling, equipped by corner fittings.

In the Preamble to the Convention it is stated that the aim of the Convention is to achieve the highest possible level of safety of human life in the handling, stacking and transporting of containers.

The Convention specifies international requirements as to the construction and exploitation of containers and defines the terms related to container shipping.

The Convention applies to all containers used for international transport, except containers developed especially for air travel. Every new container must undergo approval laid down by Annex 1 of the Convention.

The Convention has two annexes:
- Annex 1 – “Regulations for the testing, approval and maintenance”;
- Annex 2 – “Structural safety requirements and tests”.

One of the important acts for regulation of trade and organizational issues of international container shipping is the Customs Convention on Containers 1972.
This Convention aims at unification, facilitation of requirements, procedures and rules of crossing national borders. The Convention dwells on the conditions and the import procedure of empty and loaded containers, approval of containers for transport under customs seal, amendment procedures and its contents.
The annex of the Convention describes the requirements to the containers used for international transport under Customs seal.
The provisions of the Customs Convention cover the containers with the appropriate approved by the Convention marking. Every container that meets the requirements of the Convention must have an approved plate under Customs stamps and seals.

Leasing operations (renting of containers) have an important place in the system of container shipping. Their development is conditioned by the following factors:

  1. imbalanced container flows in main directions of international container shipping results in storage and transportation of empty containers;
  2. renting containers allows shipping companies and other carriers save their expenses;
  3. in the current system of taxation the taxing of container shipping operators has greatly decreased;
  4. rent operations allow reducing containers investments.

The demand for transport of goods that require special treatment as well as introduction of modern complex technologies is slowly growing. To satisfy these demands international transport chains are organized that require from all their members (carriers, warehouses, customs and port organizations, etc.) cooperation and technological improvement.
In connection with the growing demand in this type of shipping transport must meet high standards, both technical and administrative-organizational, following strict guidelines.

In order to facilitate such transportations, provide high technical level of carriage, uniform document regulations and technical requirements of international transport, a number of conventions has been developed and introduced.


Carriage of Goods & Passengers - LINKS

The Hague Rules

The Visby Amendments
The Hague-Visby Rules concerning the carriage of goods by sea are the Hague Rules (International Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules of Law relating to Bills of Lading (Brussels 1924)) as modified by the Visby Amendments (Protocol to Amend the International Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules of Law Relating to Bills of Lading (Brussels 1968)). See also the SDR Protocol (Brussels 1979) amending the Hague-Visby Rules.

The Hamburg Rules
The United Nations Convention on the Carriage of Goods by Sea (Hamburg 1968).

United Nations Convention on International Multimodal Transport of Goods (Geneva 1980)

Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road (CMR) (Geneva 1956) at Lex Mercatoria

United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (Vienna 1980)

United Nations Convention on the Liability of Operators of Transport Terminals in International Trade (Vienna 1991)

United Nations (UNCTAD) Minimum Standards for Shipping Agents (1988) at Lex Mercatoria

Convention on a Code of Conduct for Liner Conferences (Geneva 1974)

International Convention on Safe Containers (Geneva 1972)
See also the 1993 Amendments.

Convention relating to Civil Liability in the Field of Maritime Carriage of Nuclear Material (Brussels 1971)

CMI Rules for Electronic Bills of Lading at CMI

CMI Uniform Rules for Seawaybills at CMI

Inter-Club New York Produce Exchange Agreement (1996)

International Commercial Terms 1990 (INCOTERMS) at Lex Mercatoria
A summary of the International Chamber of Commerce's (ICC) recognized definitions of shipping document terms (FOB, CIF, FAS, etc.). See also the ICC's Uniform Customs and Practices for Documentary Credits (UCP 500).

Convention Relating to the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea (Athens 1974)
See also the 1976 Protocol and the 1990 Protocol.

EC Convention on the Law Applicable to Contractual Obligations
(Rome 1980) at Lex Mercatoria