Freight forwarders continue to become more prominent in the area of maritime transport. This is caused by the related topics of the container revolution, multimodal transport, groupage, and probably an increase in the number of ancillary services that may be offered; and there may well be other reasons. Freight forwarders of course arrange and/or perform numerous functions in relation to goods in transit, of which their actual carriage is only one. A term in standard conditions referred to in a case of 1994 considered below referred to “operations and activities, such as those of shipbrokers, stevedores, carriers, insurance agents, warehousing and superintending fi rms etc.”, and evidence was given by a director of the fi rm concerned that the wide wording was there “in case something like this came up”. 1 In respect of its various different activities the operations of the freight forwarder must each be assessed separately to see what was undertaken and within which legal framework. An obvious example is that a freight forwarder may undertake responsibility for the goods outside the main sea or other carriage. In such a case it may at common law be subject to the duties of a bailee or even, though it arranges carriage by sea, a land carrier. 2
This chapter is directed at the main function of freight forwarders relating to arrangements for the international carriage of goods; and in view of the thrust of this book, the emphasis is on carriage by sea, though many important cases requiring to be cited or deployed refer to carriage by road under the CMR. The international element means that since all such organisations may be exposed to foreign law (or, if they are foreign organisations, may risk being exposed to English or some other form of common law), questions of the confl ict of laws and other systems of law may require to be taken into account.