Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is set to deepen its cooperation with the port community, signing up to the International Port Community Systems Association’s (IPCSA) Bill of Lading (B/L) blockchain project.

The two organisations are founding members of the Logistics Visibility Task Force, along with Alibaba’s in-house logistics operator Cainiao Network, China’s National Logistics Information Platform (LOGINK), which so far has focused on track and trace but is being expanded to developing blockchain solutions.

IPCSA’s blockchain B/L initiative is being led by member Israel Ports Company, which operates the Israeli Ports Community System (IPCS).

This year it ran a number of successful pilot shipments using blockchain technology for transferring electronic B/Ls for shipments carried by Zim from Israel to Ukraine, where IPCSA member PPL 33-35 operates the country’s port community system.

Zim electronically issued the B/L, which was then transferred to the exporter and importer in Ukraine, with the system providing information on which party was holding the eB/L at any time, together with the logistics status of the cargo.

Richard Morton, secretary general of IPCSA, said: “Blockchain is transferring an asset and there is huge value in linking the consignment to the information that Port Community Systems hold.

“This can match the B/L to any ‘event’ during the movement of the cargo – for example, that the cargo has been loaded on the ship, arrived at port, been unloaded, been cleared by customs, or exited the gate. By matching these events to the B/L, the solution gives much-needed information and flexibility.

“There are multiple parties involved in this process – shippers, shipping lines, importers, banks, forwarders, agents, and so on. By matching information in this way, nodes can be added to the blockchain relevant to specific partners.”

Gu Xuemei, Alibaba Cainiao Network chief technology officer, added: “The use of blockchain in transferring an eB/L is expected to deliver significant savings in time and money to all participants in the supply chain, while maintaining a high level of information security and preventing forgeries.”

Meanwhile, Mr Morton also welcomed the recent Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA) initiative to help standardise B/Ls, which it said would include acceptance of eB/Ls.

“Standardised and structured data is the key to making this work. We recognise that this is a journey. Getting people to use structured data – especially small and medium-sized companies – is a challenge.

“The IPCSA eB/Lwill also accept adding PDF and JPG documents in the first version, but ultimately it will be entirely based on blockchain-structured data,” he said.

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