Break Bulk Cargo

Break Bulk Cargo

Traditional method of moving general cargo across the world’s oceans is piecemeal, the modern term being break-bulk.

Break Bulk Cargo carrying ships are laden with individual items, such as a motor-car, or pieces of machinery, bags, bales, casks, chests, small dry-bulk lots or small quantities of liquids in special tanks.

Heavy Break Bulk Cargoes may be lifted onboard or ashore by shore cranes or ship’s gear, and one or more hatchways may be large enough to accommodate long pieces of certain goods such as steel. The problems associated with such a diverse make-up of cargo are considerable:

  1. Ship Safety
  2. Cargo Safety

1- Ship Safety: Ships carrying Break Bulk Cargo (General Cargo) must be carefully laden in such a way that they are safe at sea. Thus, not only must goods be securely fitted into decks and compartments so they do not shift during passage, but attention must equally be given to a ship’s centre of gravity and to its metacentric height (the point in a floating body above its centre of gravity, on the position of which its stability depends) heavier items of cargo being placed towards the lower regions of a ship where practicable. Careful attention must also be given to longitudinal distribution. particularly to stresses placed on a ship’s hull, and to her trim fore and aft, at the same time avoiding listing to port or to starboard.

2- Cargo Safety: Careful attention must also be paid to the relative locations of various commodities. Obviously, heavy goods stowed above lighter commodities may be expected to result in crushing of the lower items, whilst goods prone to leakage, such as drums, and/or to melting such as pitch in blocks, should be placed at deck level and not above other goods. Articles liable to melt or to be otherwise affected by heat should be stowed away from areas such as engine-room bulkheads which may become warm, whilst certain cargoes liable to emit strong odours should be stowed clear of more delicate goods that may be affected by taint. Commodities liable to spontaneous combustion should be accessible, whilst securing of goods should be given close attention so as to avoid damage to cargo and/or ship during adverse weather or sea conditions.

What is Break Bulk Cargo?

Break bulk cargo is a term used to describe goods that need to be loaded individually onto a ship, rather than being loaded in large containers or in bulk. This kind of cargo typically includes items that are oversized, heavy, or difficult to handle, such as machinery, construction equipment, timber, or steel beams.

The term “break bulk” originates from the phrase “breaking bulk” which refers to the process of unloading and distributing parts of a cargo shipment. The term is used in contrast to other forms of cargo shipping, such as containerized cargo, which involves loading items into large standardized shipping containers, or bulk cargo, which includes items like oil, grain, or coal that can be loaded directly into a ship’s hold in large quantities.

Break bulk cargo requires a high level of handling, both in terms of loading and unloading, which can make it more expensive and time-consuming to transport than other types of cargo. However, for certain types of goods, it can be the most practical or even the only feasible way to ship them.

Loading and unloading break bulk cargo can be a complex process, often requiring the use of special equipment like cranes, forklifts, or even specialized ships. For this reason, handling break bulk cargo generally requires skilled workers with specific training and experience.

Furthermore, the logistics of shipping break bulk cargo can also be complex. It’s not just about getting the cargo from point A to point B, but also about ensuring it’s loaded and unloaded in the right order, protecting it from damage during transport, and handling any necessary customs or regulatory paperwork. Break bulk cargo may also require specific storage conditions, such as temperature or humidity control.

This shipping method is also essential for certain industries. For instance, many of the components for wind turbines, such as the blades and tower sections, are too large to be shipped in standard containers and must be shipped as break bulk cargo. Similarly, large construction projects often require the shipment of heavy machinery or other large items as break bulk cargo.

It’s also worth mentioning that while break bulk cargo can be more costly and time-consuming to handle than other types of cargo, it can offer more flexibility. Because each piece of cargo can be handled individually, it can be easier to ship to destinations that aren’t equipped to handle large containers or bulk cargo, and to manage cargo that’s being shipped to multiple different destinations.

While the shipping industry has largely moved towards containerization, there’s still a significant amount of cargo that’s shipped as break bulk, and it remains an important part of the global logistics and shipping industry.

What is the difference between Bulk Cargo and Break Bulk Cargo?

  1. Bulk Cargo: This term refers to cargo that is shipped in large quantities and is not packaged, but rather loose or in some cases in large containers such as tankers. It includes items like coal, grains, and petroleum. Since these commodities are homogeneous, they can be poured or dumped into a ship’s hold. Bulk cargo can be categorized further into liquid bulk (like oil, water, liquefied natural gas) and dry bulk (like coal, grain, iron ore).
  2. Break Bulk Cargo: This term refers to goods that must be loaded individually, and not in intermodal containers or in bulk as with oil or grain. These cargoes are often packed into bags, boxes, crates, drums, or barrels. Examples might include coffee beans, tools, machinery, etc. They require a high degree of care and attention during loading and unloading to prevent damage.

The key difference between these two types of cargo lies in their packaging and handling. Bulk cargo is typically shipped unpackaged in large quantities, whereas break bulk cargo is usually packaged and handled individually. Consequently, the loading and unloading processes for break bulk cargo tend to be more labor-intensive and time-consuming than for bulk cargo.


Choice between using Bulk or Break Bulk Cargo

The choice between using bulk or break bulk cargo often depends on the nature of the goods being transported, the facilities available at the loading and unloading ports, and the costs associated with shipping.

  1. Cost Considerations: Bulk shipping tends to be less expensive per unit weight than break bulk shipping. This is because it is typically faster to load and unload large volumes of cargo in a single operation, and there is less need for complex logistics or handling procedures. On the other hand, break bulk shipping can sometimes be more cost-effective for smaller shipments or for goods that require special handling or storage conditions.
  2. Handling and Storage: Break bulk cargo requires more labor and resources to handle than bulk cargo. Each individual unit must be loaded and unloaded separately, which can be a time-consuming process. Additionally, because the cargo is not homogeneous, more attention must be paid to properly securing the cargo to prevent damage during transit. Bulk cargo, in contrast, usually requires less individual handling.
  3. Infrastructure: The loading and unloading of bulk cargo require specialized equipment and facilities, such as conveyor belts, pumps, or silos. Ports need to have the infrastructure to handle these kinds of cargos. Break bulk cargo can be handled with more general-purpose equipment like cranes and forklifts, but might require more warehouse space for storage.
  4. Flexibility: In some cases, break bulk can provide more flexibility. For example, if a shipper only needs to send a small quantity of goods, it may not be economical or even possible to send it as bulk cargo. Additionally, break bulk cargo can be sent to smaller ports that may not have the facilities to handle bulk cargo.
  5. Speed: As previously mentioned, the loading and unloading of bulk cargo are typically faster than with break bulk cargo because bulk cargo does not require individual handling. This can lead to shorter turnaround times at ports, enabling shipping ships to spend more time on the move and less time at port.
  6. Safety and Security: Break bulk cargo might be more susceptible to damage, theft, or loss because the cargo consists of individual pieces, each of which must be handled separately. Careful packaging and stowage are required to protect the goods. In contrast, bulk cargo, due to its nature, generally carries a lower risk of theft, but the risk of damage or loss can still be significant, particularly for certain types of sensitive goods like grain or other food products that can spoil or become contaminated.
  7. Environmental Impact: Bulk shipping is often more environmentally friendly than break bulk shipping. When transporting large volumes of cargo, bulk carriers generally consume less fuel per unit of cargo than ships carrying equivalent amounts of break bulk cargo. However, this can be offset by factors such as the energy used in the production and disposal of packaging materials for break bulk cargo.
  8. Tracking and Traceability: It’s easier to track and trace break bulk cargo because each package can be individually labeled and accounted for. This is particularly important for goods that require rigorous documentation or for high-value goods where detailed inventory control is essential. Bulk cargo, on the other hand, can be more challenging to track and trace on a granular level due to its homogeneity and the way it is handled and stored.

In sum, the decision to ship goods as bulk or break bulk cargo involves a complex set of considerations. Companies must weigh the nature of their goods, the cost, time factors, available facilities and equipment, safety and security, environmental impact, and the need for tracking and traceability. These factors will ultimately determine the most efficient, effective, and economical way to ship their products.

Both types of cargo have their advantages and disadvantages, and shippers will choose the one that best suits their needs based on the nature of the goods, the available facilities, and the costs.


Bulk Cargo Vs Break Bulk Cargo

  1. Bulk Cargo: Bulk cargo refers to commodities that are transported unpackaged in large quantities. This type of cargo is usually dropped or poured as a liquid or solid into a merchant’s ship, railroad car, or tanker truck. Examples of bulk cargo include coal, grain, and oil.
    • Types of Bulk Cargo: Bulk cargo can be subdivided into two categories: dry bulk cargo and liquid bulk cargo. Dry bulk comprises goods like grain, sugar, and iron ore, while liquid bulk includes items like crude oil, petroleum, and other chemical products.
    • Advantages: The primary advantage of bulk cargo is its cost-effectiveness for transporting large quantities of goods that don’t require individual packaging or specific handling.
    • Disadvantages: A significant disadvantage is the requirement of specialized equipment and infrastructure to load, unload, and store the goods. Plus, the goods may be prone to damage from exposure to weather conditions and other environmental factors.
  2. Break Bulk Cargo: Break bulk cargo, on the other hand, is packaged cargo that is grouped together in units. These units are often transported on pallets or in bags, crates, drums, or barrels. Unlike bulk cargo, break bulk cargo is loaded and unloaded piece by piece. Examples of break bulk cargo include machinery, bagged or barreled items, and manufactured goods.
    • Types of Break Bulk Cargo: Break bulk cargo comes in a variety of forms, including bagged items like cement or flour, baled goods like paper or cotton, drummed items like oil or paint, and bundled items like steel or lumber.
    • Advantages: Break bulk cargo can be handled individually, making it versatile for different types of goods. It is also easier to count, manage, and identify damage or loss.
    • Disadvantages: Loading and unloading break bulk cargo can be labor-intensive and time-consuming, which could potentially increase costs. The chance of loss or damage is also higher because the goods are handled individually.

So, the choice between bulk cargo and break bulk cargo transportation will depend on factors such as the type and quantity of goods, the infrastructure available for loading and unloading, cost, and time considerations.


What is the difference between Container Cargo and Break Bulk Cargo?

Difference between Container Cargo and Break Bulk Cargo.

Container Cargo:

Container cargo refers to goods that are transported in standard-sized, sealable containers. These containers are designed to be easily loaded, unloaded, stacked, transported, and transferred from one mode of transport to another—like from a ship to a truck or train. They come in various sizes but the most common are 20 feet and 40 feet long. Containerized cargo provides several advantages including increased security for the cargo, protection against weather, and the ability to handle cargo more efficiently.

Break Bulk Cargo:

Break bulk cargo, on the other hand, refers to goods that must be loaded individually onto the transport vehicle, rather than in a container. This could be because they are too big or heavy to fit into a container, or because they are not suited to container transport for some other reason. Examples might include machinery, timber, steel or other metal products, cement, etc.

Handling break bulk cargo can be more labor-intensive and time-consuming, as each piece must be handled separately. It also typically requires more complex logistics and planning to ensure safe and efficient transport.

So, the main differences between container cargo and break bulk cargo revolve around the way the goods are packaged and handled for transport. Each type of cargo has its own advantages and disadvantages, and the choice between the two will depend on the specifics of the goods being shipped.


Container Cargo:

The main advantage of container cargo is its flexibility. Containers are standardized, meaning they’re designed to fit neatly onto ships, trucks, and trains regardless of what’s inside them. This allows for “intermodal transport”, where the cargo can be easily switched from one form of transport to another without needing to be unloaded from the container.

In addition, container shipping tends to be faster and more reliable. Because the containers are sealed, there’s less risk of damage or loss due to theft. They also provide protection against environmental elements like rain, wind, and dust, which could potentially damage the goods inside.

However, not all goods can be efficiently packed into containers due to size or shape constraints. Also, there can be more upfront costs, as the containers themselves must be purchased or leased, and special equipment may be needed to load and unload them.

Break Bulk Cargo:

Break bulk cargo is more versatile in terms of the size and shape of goods that can be transported. Large, heavy items that cannot fit into containers can still be shipped as break bulk. This includes things like large machinery, construction materials, or oversized vehicles.

On the other hand, handling break bulk cargo is often more complex and labor-intensive. Each piece of cargo must be individually loaded and unloaded, and special care must be taken to ensure it’s securely fastened for transport. This can also lead to longer loading and unloading times, which can affect overall shipping times.

Break bulk cargo is also more exposed to the elements, and there’s a greater risk of damage or loss due to theft. However, this risk can be mitigated with proper planning and security measures.

In conclusion, the choice between container and break bulk shipping will depend on various factors, including the nature of the goods to be shipped, the cost, and the shipping route and timing. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages, and a thorough analysis should be conducted to choose the most suitable method for each particular shipping situation.


What is meant by Break Bulk Cargo?

Break bulk cargo is a type of cargo that is transported in packages, bags, crates, drums, barrels, or other forms of non-unitized cargo, rather than in intermodal containers or in bulk (as with oil or grain). The term “break bulk” comes from the phrase “breaking bulk”—the extraction of a portion of the cargo on a ship or the beginning of the unloading process from the ship’s holds.

Typically, these goods must be loaded and unloaded individually, which tends to be more time-consuming and labor-intensive than loading and unloading containerized or bulk cargo. Examples of break bulk cargo include machinery, bagged or barreled goods, and boxed cargo.

The use of break bulk cargo has been declining steadily as the containerization of cargo has become increasingly common due to its efficiency, ease of handling, and security advantages. Nonetheless, break bulk remains important for goods that are oversized or that have specific handling requirements that cannot be met by standard containers.


What is Dry Bulk and Break Bulk?

Dry Bulk and Break Bulk are terms used in shipping and logistics, relating to different types of cargo and the ways they are transported.

  1. Dry Bulk: This refers to goods that are shipped in large, unpackaged amounts, usually in bulk carriers. Dry bulk commodities are usually raw materials that are homogeneous and can be poured, such as coal, grain, ores, cement, etc. These types of cargo do not need any form of packaging, they are simply loaded directly into the cargo holds of the ships.
  2. Break Bulk: Break Bulk cargo is non-containerized general cargo, stored as individual pieces due to its large size or weight. These include items such as machinery, wood, steel or iron beams, barrels, drums, crates, or bags. This kind of cargo is individually loaded onto the ship using cranes, and requires more individual attention than bulk cargo. Break Bulk shipping was common before the widespread use of containers, but still persists today for cargo that does not easily fit into containers.

In summary, the main difference between dry bulk and break bulk is the packaging and handling. Dry bulk goods are homogeneous, loose materials that are handled en masse, while break bulk goods are usually individual items that need to be handled one at a time or in small groups.


What are the Break Bulk Cargo Examples?

Break bulk cargo is non-containerized and is usually transported as individual pieces due to its large size or volume. Here are a few examples:

  1. Machinery: This includes large industrial equipment like generators, turbines, or factory components that cannot be easily broken down into smaller parts.
  2. Timber: Large logs, wooden beams, or other forestry products that are usually shipped in bulk.
  3. Steel Products: This can include large items such as beams, rods, coils, or plates that are too big for standard containers.
  4. Vehicles: Cars, trucks, boats, and other vehicles can often be classified as break bulk if they are transported as individual units.
  5. Construction Equipment: Items such as cranes, bulldozers, or other large construction equipment may be shipped as break bulk.
  6. Pipes and Tubes: Large pipes or tubes for industrial use, oil pipelines, or sewage systems.
  7. Bagged or Barrelled Items: Things like cement, grains, or chemicals can also be considered break bulk if not containerized.
  8. Wind Turbines: The blades and other parts of wind turbines are too large for standard containers and would be transported as break bulk cargo.
  9. Yachts: They are often transported on the deck of a breakbulk ship due to their size and shape.
  1. Large Sculptures and Art Installations: Artwork that is too large for standard shipping containers often needs to be transported as break bulk cargo. This can include sculptures, statues, or large installations.
  2. Project Cargo: These are typically high-value, complex equipment or components that are part of a larger project. They may be needed for infrastructure projects like bridges or power plants. Due to their size or complexity, they are often transported as break bulk.
  3. Manufactured Housing Units: Large pre-made sections of housing or other buildings may need to be transported as break bulk because they cannot be easily disassembled.
  4. Aircraft Parts: Major parts of an airplane, like wings or fuselage sections, are usually transported as break bulk due to their size.
  5. Railway Locomotives and Carriages: When trains need to be transported over sea, they are typically shipped as break bulk cargo because of their size and weight.
  6. Farm Machinery: Large machinery like tractors, harvesters, and ploughs are often too large and awkwardly shaped to fit into standard containers and therefore are transported as break bulk cargo.

These items often require special handling, loading, stowage and securing due to their large size, shape, and weight. As such, break bulk shipping is a specialized field that requires considerable logistics planning and operational efficiency. It is also important to note that break bulk cargo is often more susceptible to damage and theft than containerized cargo, so appropriate measures must be taken to protect these goods during transportation. These items are often loaded individually onto a ship rather than being placed in a shipping container. The term ‘break bulk’ comes from the phrase ‘breaking bulk’, which is the extraction of a portion of the cargo on a ship, or the beginning of the unloading process from the ship’s holds.


What is BB in Shipping Terms?

In shipping terms, “BB” typically stands for “Break Bulk.” Break Bulk refers to cargo that is loaded individually onto a ship, rather than in containers. It includes goods such as large machinery, vehicles, steel girders, wood, etc. which are too big or heavy to fit into a container.

The term “Break Bulk” comes from the phrase “breaking bulk” which means to begin the process of unloading a portion of a ship’s cargo, or it can also refer to the cargo that is unpacked or unwrapped, especially in less than container load (LCL) shipments.

It’s important to note that terminology can sometimes vary in the shipping industry based on different regions or companies, but generally, BB refers to Break Bulk in this context.


What are the Disadvantages of Break Bulk (BB)?

Breakbulk refers to the transportation of goods that are packaged individually and not in containers, a method that was more common before the widespread adoption of containerized shipping. Here are some of the disadvantages associated with breakbulk:

  1. Increased handling time: Breakbulk cargo requires much more manual handling compared to containerized cargo, which can slow down the loading and unloading process. This can potentially delay the entire shipping schedule.
  2. Increased costs: The additional handling and longer time spent on loading and unloading can increase labor costs. Also, breakbulk ships are typically less fuel efficient than container ships, which can add to the costs.
  3. Greater risk of damage or loss: Each time a cargo item is handled, there’s a risk it could be damaged or lost. This risk is significantly higher with breakbulk cargo due to the increased number of times each item must be manually handled.
  4. Requires more space: Breakbulk cargo often takes up more space than containerized cargo, both on the ship and at the dock. This can reduce the efficiency of space utilization and increase storage costs.
  5. Less flexibility: Container ships have scheduled routes and regular services, which provides predictability and flexibility. On the other hand, breakbulk shipments usually depend on the availability of suitable ships and may not have the same frequency of service, making it less flexible.
  6. Complexity in logistics and paperwork: With breakbulk, each piece or lot has its own bill of lading and paperwork, which can complicate logistics and increase the risk of administrative errors.
  7. Limited accessibility: Not all ports are equipped to handle breakbulk cargo, which can limit the choice of ports and thus routes for shipping.
  8. Environmental Impact: Given the longer loading times and the increased fuel consumption, breakbulk shipping can have a higher environmental impact than container shipping.
  1. Insufficient Security: Compared to containerized cargo, breakbulk cargo could be more exposed to theft during transit and at ports. The security of goods can be more challenging as the goods are not enclosed in a secure container.
  2. Dependence on Weather Conditions: Breakbulk shipping is often more sensitive to adverse weather conditions. Loading and unloading of the cargo can be delayed due to rain, high winds, or rough seas, which can significantly disrupt shipping schedules.
  3. Difficulty in Tracking: Containerized cargo is easier to track due to the use of standardized containers and advanced tracking systems. Breakbulk cargo, on the other hand, may not have the same level of traceability, making it harder to monitor the movement and status of goods.
  4. Less Economical for Small Shipments: Breakbulk shipping is not always economical for smaller shipments. Since each cargo item is handled separately, the costs can add up quickly for small shipments. On the other hand, containerized shipping allows for consolidation of small shipments, which can be more cost-effective.
  5. Regulatory Compliance: In some cases, different types of breakbulk cargo may have different regulatory requirements. This can complicate the process of shipping multiple types of cargo on the same ship and can potentially increase the risk of non-compliance with regulations.

In general, while breakbulk shipping has its place in the transportation of goods that cannot be easily containerized (like large machinery, oversized equipment, etc.), it presents a number of challenges and disadvantages that make containerized shipping a preferred choice for many types of cargo.


What is Break Bulk vs OOG?

Breakbulk and OOG, or Out of Gauge, are terms used in the logistics and freight industry to describe different types of cargo.

  1. Breakbulk: This term refers to cargo that is too large or heavy to be loaded into a standard container. Instead, these items are individually loaded, or “broken up,” onto a ship. Breakbulk cargo often includes things like construction equipment, manufacturing materials, or other large items. It’s typically used when cargo cannot be shipped in the standard-sized shipping containers or when it’s more economical to ship the items individually.
  2. OOG (Out of Gauge): OOG refers to cargo that exceeds the standard dimensions of a shipping container in height, length, or width. While these items are typically still shipped using containers, they require special open top containers or flat rack containers to accommodate their size. It’s important to note that this type of cargo may require special handling, additional security, and potentially higher costs due to its non-standard size.

In essence, both breakbulk and OOG refer to cargo that is too large or bulky to fit into standard shipping containers, but they’re loaded onto ships in different ways. Breakbulk cargo is loaded individually, while OOG cargo is still shipped in containers but requires special types of containers or configurations due to its size.


What is Heavy Break Bulk Cargo?

Break bulk cargo refers to goods that must be loaded individually, and not in intermodal containers or in bulk cargo, as with oil or grain. These goods can be large, oversized, or heavyweight, and they often require special handling. Items like machinery, construction equipment, pre-fabricated units, or steel beams are typical examples of break bulk cargo.

“Heavy break bulk cargo” refers specifically to extremely heavy or large items that cannot be handled in a conventional manner, often requiring cranes, special handling procedures, and specific expertise. This type of cargo is typically transported on specialized ships designed to handle such large loads, such as heavy-lift ships. The handling and transport of heavy break bulk cargo is typically more complex and costly due to the specialized equipment and knowledge required.

The nature of heavy break bulk cargo often demands particular considerations in its transport. Here are a few factors to understand:

  1. Loading and Unloading: Loading and unloading heavy break bulk cargo can be challenging. As mentioned, this often requires specialized heavy-lift cranes and equipment. The process also requires careful planning and coordination to ensure the safe and efficient loading and unloading of the cargo.
  2. Stowage and Securing: The stowage (placement onboard a ship) and securing of heavy break bulk cargo are critical to the safety of the ship and the cargo. It’s crucial to balance the weight of the cargo throughout the ship to maintain stability. Similarly, proper securing of the cargo is needed to prevent shifting during the voyage, which could lead to cargo damage or even capsizing of the ship.
  3. Documentation and Regulation: Heavy break bulk cargo often comes with its own set of paperwork and regulations. These could be local, national, or international in scope, and they cover things like safety, environmental impact, customs procedures, and more. Companies handling this type of cargo must have a thorough understanding of these requirements.
  4. Insurance: Given the high value and potential risks associated with heavy break bulk cargo, insurance is a major consideration. Policies must cover not only the cargo itself but also potential liability for damages caused during transport.
  5. Route Planning: The route must be carefully planned considering the size and weight of the cargo. Some ports may not have the necessary infrastructure to handle heavy break bulk cargo. Similarly, some routes may have bridges or other structures that might not accommodate oversized cargo. These aspects must be carefully considered and planned for in advance.

In summary, heavy break bulk cargo handling is a specialized field that demands knowledge, experience, and a lot of careful planning and coordination. It’s a critical part of global trade, enabling the transport of goods that are too large or heavy for other forms of transport.


What is the capacity of a Break Bulk Ship?

The capacity of a breakbulk ship, which is typically used for cargoes that are not suitable for container loading, is usually measured in deadweight tonnage (DWT). This measurement represents the maximum weight of the ship including its cargo, fuel, supplies, crew, etc. when it is fully loaded so that its plimsoll line is at water level.

The capacity of breakbulk ships can vary significantly depending on their design, but many modern ships designed for this purpose have a DWT ranging from 2,000 to 40,000 tons. Smaller breakbulk ships, sometimes called multipurpose ships, might have capacities as low as a few thousand DWT. Larger ships, on the other hand, can exceed 100,000 DWT, but these are less common in breakbulk service.

Remember, though, that the DWT of a ship doesn’t necessarily tell you exactly how much cargo it can carry. The specific types and dimensions of the cargo, the loading and unloading capabilities of the ports it’s visiting, and other factors can also affect a breakbulk ship’s real-world capacity.


Break Bulk Ships, Multi-Purpose Ships, or General Cargo Ships

  1. Break Bulk Ships: These ships are designed to carry cargo that is not containerized and doesn’t use the standard sizes of containers. The goods can be loaded individually, in bags, boxes, crates, drums, or barrels, or in larger units like pallets. The name “break bulk” comes from the phrase “breaking bulk”—the extraction of a portion of the cargo of a ship or the beginning of the unloading process. These ships are equipped with onboard cranes and derricks to handle cargo.
  2. Multi-Purpose Ships: As the name suggests, multi-purpose ships are ships designed to carry different types of cargo at the same time. They have both container capacities and spaces for non-containerized cargo. They can handle a variety of cargo types including bulk cargo, break bulk, neo bulk (e.g. automobiles), and containers, and they are designed with adjustable compartments to accommodate the variable cargo sizes. Multi-purpose ships are especially useful in routes where there isn’t enough cargo for a full load of one type.
  3. General Cargo Ships: General cargo ships are similar to break bulk ships, but they are typically designed to carry packaged items like chemicals, foods, furniture, machinery, motor- and military vehicles, footwear, garments, etc. These goods are often loaded in different types of cargo transport units like containers, pallets, and trailers. These ships do not usually have their own loading gear, so they depend on the port facilities to load and unload the cargo.

Each of these types of ships has its own strengths and weaknesses, and the choice of which to use often depends on the nature of the cargo, the available port facilities, and the specifics of the shipping route.


What is Break Bulk Cargo?

Break bulk cargo refers to any kind of freight that cannot be containerized and requires individual loading and unloading. This type of cargo is often too large or has unconventional shapes that prevent it from fitting into standard shipping containers. As a result, it must be loaded directly onto the ship. To ensure safe transit and prevent damage to the ship or other cargo, break bulk cargo needs to be securely lashed down.

Shipping break bulk cargo is generally more expensive compared to containerized freight due to the additional time and labor involved in the loading and unloading processes. Additionally, break bulk cargo often consists of perishable items that require swift shipment. Given its weight, this type of cargo necessitates transportation on ships capable of handling heavy loads.

A Brief Historical Overview of Break Bulk Cargo

Break bulk cargo originated during the era of sail, when ships had to be loaded manually. This was a time-consuming and labor-intensive task. Throughout the early 20th century, break bulk cargo remained the standard mode of transportation.

The introduction of containerization in the 1950s significantly enhanced the efficiency of cargo shipping. However, break bulk cargo continues to play a vital role in the shipping industry.

Presently, break bulk cargo is frequently utilized for oversized or heavy items that are not easily containerized. This category encompasses machinery, vehicles, lumber, and steel. Additionally, it serves as the preferred method for transporting perishable goods like grains and fresh produce, which require prompt loading.

For further information on the transformation of general cargo handling and trade from break-bulk to containerization, please refer to the scientific article available on Springer.

Differentiating Between Bulk and Break Bulk Cargo

Bulk cargo denotes materials transported in large, undivided quantities. While it is often transported in containers, it can also be conveyed by ships, trucks, or trains. Typically, bulk cargo consists of homogeneous materials, such as coal, grain, or iron ore. Dedicated bulk carriers, specifically designed to transport large volumes of bulk cargo, are commonly employed for this purpose.

On the other hand, break bulk cargo involves the transportation of materials in smaller packaging, including palletized, bagged, strapped, bundled, drummed, or crated formats. Ships are the primary mode of transport, although trucks and trains may also be utilized. Break bulk cargo usually comprises heterogeneous materials, such as cars, lumber, or machinery. General cargo ships, designed to accommodate various types of cargo, are typically employed for transporting break bulk cargo.

Ships for Transporting Break Bulk Cargo

Break Bulk, Multi-Purpose, or General Cargo Vessels are the designations attributed to the ships responsible for transporting these break bulk loads. They come in a variety of dimensions, spanning from 2000 DWT to 40,000 DWT, and encompass diverse categories such as Single Decker, Tween Decker, and Box Holds. Cargo can be loaded below, on, or between decks (tween deck).

Within a multi-purpose or break bulk ship:

The cargo may pertain to distinct clientele. A terminal or specific berth is dispensable. It can operate from any available berth.

Break Bulk Ships are classified into two types:

1- Gearless Break Bulk Ships: These ships can only dock at terminals equipped with the necessary cargo handling apparatus, as they lack their own cranes and/or other cargo handling equipment.
2- Geared Break Bulk Ships: These ships can dock at any acceptable berth at the port for cargo operations since they are equipped with their own cranes and/or other cargo handling machinery.

The Merits of Break Bulk Cargo Shipping

There are numerous advantages associated with break bulk cargo shipping. One benefit lies in the fact that break bulk cargo ships have the capacity to transport a wide array of cargo, including oversized and heavy lift items that may not be suitable for transportation on container ships.

Another advantage is that break bulk cargo shipping often proves to be less costly compared to container shipping, given that container ships necessitate specialized equipment and infrastructure, which can elevate expenses.

Furthermore, break bulk cargo shipping typically boasts shorter transit times than container shipping, as container ships often have to make stops at multiple ports to load and unload cargo. This characteristic is particularly advantageous for time-sensitive shipments.

Lastly, break bulk cargo shipping offers greater flexibility in comparison to container shipping, as cargo can be loaded and unloaded at any port capable of accommodating the ship without requiring specialized infrastructure.

The Drawbacks of Break Bulk Cargo Shipping

One of the primary disadvantages of break bulk cargo shipping is its significant labor intensity. Consequently, a considerable amount of manpower is required to load and unload the cargo, resulting in potential delays and additional costs.

Another drawback is that break bulk cargo is often more challenging to handle and store when compared to containerized cargo, thereby causing delays and incurring extra costs.

Lastly, break bulk cargo is prone to greater vulnerability in terms of damage and theft than containerized cargo, leading to potential losses for the shipper.


Break Bulk Cargo Packaging

Break bulk cargo packaging can be executed through various methods, as outlined below:

1- Crates and Corrugated Boxes

Crates and corrugated boxes are popular choices for packaging break bulk cargo. Their robustness and ability to be stacked make them ideal for storing and conveying large quantities of goods. Furniture, appliances, machinery, machine parts, and fruits are commonly shipped in crates and boxes. To ensure stability and facilitate loading, crates and corrugated boxes are typically palletized during transit.

2- Bagged Cargo

Bagged cargo represents a form of break bulk cargo packaging wherein items are carefully enclosed within bags before being loaded onto a ship. Examples of items frequently transported in bags include grain, coffee beans, and sugar. Due to their intricate nature, these items necessitate such packaging to shield them from environmental factors during transportation. Although bagged cargo may incur higher shipping costs compared to alternative methods, it offers reassurance to shippers concerned about potential damage to their cargo during transit.

3- Barrels and Drums

Barrels and drums serve as prevalent types of packaging for break bulk cargo. They are frequently employed for liquids, powders, as well as dry goods. These versatile containers are available in various sizes and can be constructed from materials such as plastic, metal, or wood. Their affordability and ease of transport contribute to their popularity in break bulk packaging. Furthermore, their stackability optimizes space utilization, and their reusability aligns with sustainability goals, distinguishing them from other packaging alternatives.

Products commonly packaged in barrels and drums encompass crude oil and its derivatives, paint, alcoholic beverages, grains, flour, sugar, salt, coffee beans, and tea leaves. It is important to use special heavy-duty wedges to prevent barrels and drums from rolling when they are positioned on their sides. Additionally, packing material is occasionally inserted between barrels to prevent them from rubbing against each other.


Break Bulk Cargo Loading and Unloading

  1. Vessel Preparation: Prior to receiving break bulk cargo, it is essential to cleanse, sanitize, and desiccate the ship’s holds or storage areas.
  2. Vessel Securing: This can be accomplished by mooring the ship to a pier or anchoring it in a secure location. Once the ship is properly secured, the subsequent step involves preparing the cargo for loading, ensuring meticulous packaging and labeling.
  3. Loading the Cargo onto the Vessel: This can be achieved by employing a crane or an alternative lifting apparatus. The cargo must be positioned accurately within the ship, guaranteeing its stability and preventing any displacement during transit.
  4. Cargo Securing: This can be accomplished by fastening it or utilizing straps. Once the cargo is securely fastened, the ship can be readied for departure.
  5. Unloading the Cargo from the Vessel: This can be accomplished by employing a crane or an alternative lifting apparatus. The cargo must be placed in the appropriate location on the pier or receiving area for proper unloading.
  6. Cargo Inspection for Damage: In the event of any damage, it is imperative to report it promptly for necessary repairs. Once the cargo has been inspected, it can be transported to its final destination.
  7. Preparation for the Next Load: After the completion of unloading, thorough cleansing, scrubbing, and drying of the ship’s stowage space are required before it can be prepared to receive the next load.


Although break bulk cargo shipping offers numerous advantages, it is important to bear in mind that it also entails certain drawbacks. One of the significant disadvantages is the time-consuming nature of its loading and unloading processes. Consequently, a substantial workforce is required to efficiently carry out these operations.

Furthermore, the appropriate ship type must be chosen for transporting such cargo. Break bulk cargo ships typically possess larger dimensions than container ships, necessitating sufficient space for accommodation. Finally, meticulous attention must be given to the packaging of break bulk cargo, as it is often characterized by its considerable weight and susceptibility to damage.