Bulk Coal Shipping

Bulk Coal Shipping

Coal is an energy source used for both power generation and as a heat source in many industrial processes such as steel making.

It is estimated that about 4,000 million tons of coal a year are mined and consumed. About 560 million tons are transported each year by sea, from the sources of production to the industrial centers of the world where most of the steel is made and power is consumed.

In spite of the fact that burning coal is not a very environmentally friendly process, it is still used to generate around 40% of the world’s electricity.

Coal is transported by bulk carriers, which may or may not be equipped with gear (cranes) for discharging. Loading is usually by conveyor from shore. Where deep water is available at both loading and discharging port, Capesize Bulk Carriers (180,000 DWT) can be used to take advantage of economies of scale.

Where restrictions of one sort or another dictate smaller parcels, Panamax Bulk Carriers (60,000 – 80,000 DWT) or the smaller Handymax Bulk Carriers (40,000 – 60,000 DWT) are employed.

Coal is discharged by grab fitted cranes, often at specialized terminals serving steelworks or power stations.


Coal is a mineralized fossil fuel, mined extensively throughout the world and widely utilized as a source of domestic and industrial power.

As a seaborne commodity, Coal is nearly always carried in bulk and is of considerable importance, being shipped in large quantities from the United States East and Gulf Coasts, Canada’s West Coast, Australia, South Africa, Poland and Russia, other areas despite having prolific coal-mining industries, exporting somewhat smaller amounts.


Types of Coal

Types of Coal vary widely, ranging from soft (bituminous) types to hard (anthracite), through to manufactured coal products, such as coal briquettes, peas or beans, and patent fuels – perhaps mixtures of coal dust and cement. Product used directly to generate heat – eg: for use in power stations – is termed Thermal Coal; whereas Metallurgical or Coking Coal is processed to become coke prior to being utilized in certain industries – eg: in steelworks.

Much of the seaborne trade in coals is confined to large bulk carriers – eg: Panamax size and above – for this is an industry truly relying on economies of scale on certain well-established trade routes. Few of these ships have their own cargo-handling gear, relying instead on loading and discharging at modern, deepwater facilities fitted with sophisticated equipment.

Coke is half-burnt coal so deprived of its gases, and used for industrial purposes and as a domestic fuel. It tends to absorb moisture, perhaps up to 20% of its weight and, in the dry condition is very light stowing – between 70 and 100 cubic feet per tonne depending on type (foundry coke stows around 80/90 and furnace coke 70/80). Thus will the cargo compartments of most ships be full before the permitted load-lines are reached.

Consequently, in order to gain the maximum cargo intake, it may be possible to carry coke as a deck-cargo, although this, of course, depends on any necessity of avoiding contact with salt water, and on adequate stability of the deck stow to compensate for the possibility of water absorption by the coke.

Carriage of coke on deck entails the laying of dunnage to facilitate drainage of water from the cargo, and the erection of frames made from wooden posts and chicken wire. As with coal, coke can be processed into manufactured derivatives – eg: beans – or shipped in small pieces such as coke breeze, the latter stowing somewhat heavier than larger coke, say around 50 cubic feet per tonne. The least coke is handled, the greater its value, as it is particularly prone to crushing by grabs.

Bulk Coal Shipping

Bulk coal refers to large quantities of coal, a black or brownish-black sedimentary rock composed primarily of carbon, along with various other elements such as hydrogen, sulfur, oxygen, and nitrogen. Coal is formed from the remains of plants that lived and died millions of years ago, which were subjected to heat and pressure over time. It is a significant source of energy, mainly used for electricity generation, steel production, and cement manufacturing.

Shipping and handling bulk coal present a unique set of challenges and considerations:
  1. Coal Storage: Bulk coal is typically transported in its raw, unprocessed form. It is stored in stockpiles or directly loaded into open-top railcars, trucks, or bulk cargo ships. The coal must be protected from moisture, which can cause it to degrade or spontaneously combust.
  2. Coal Transportation Mode: The choice of transportation method for bulk coal depends on factors such as distance, cost, and required delivery time. Common modes of transportation for coal include trucks, trains, and ships. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages in terms of cost, speed, and environmental impact.
  3. Coal Loading and Unloading: Specialized equipment, such as conveyors, bucket wheel excavators, and cranes, are used to load and unload coal safely and efficiently. Proper handling techniques are crucial to prevent damage to the coal and ensure worker safety.
  4. Coal Dust control: Coal dust can be a significant issue during the shipping and handling process. Implementing dust control measures, such as spraying water or using dust suppression agents, can help minimize dust emissions and reduce the risk of air pollution and health hazards.
  5. Coal Shipping regulations: Depending on the origin and destination of the coal shipment, there may be specific shipping regulations and requirements to follow. These can include customs declarations, import/export permits, and adherence to safety and environmental standards.
  6. Coal Shipping Insurance: Due to the value and volume of bulk coal shipments, adequate insurance coverage is essential to protect against loss, damage, or theft during transit. Ensure that the shipping company or carrier provides the necessary coverage or consider purchasing additional insurance if needed.
  7. Tracking and Documentation: Accurate record-keeping and shipment tracking are important for the efficient shipping of bulk coal. Proper documentation ensures that all parties involved in the shipping process are aware of the shipment’s contents, value, and destination. Tracking systems allow customers and businesses to monitor the progress of their shipments and anticipate delivery times.
  8. Coal Environmental Concerns: The extraction, transportation, and use of coal have significant environmental impacts, including habitat destruction, water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. It’s essential to work with responsible suppliers and shipping companies that follow best practices for minimizing environmental damage and strive to reduce their carbon footprint.

By considering these factors and working with a reliable shipping partner, you can ensure the safe and efficient transportation of bulk coal for various industrial and energy production applications. However, it’s important to recognize the environmental consequences of coal use and explore cleaner, more sustainable energy sources whenever possible.


Bulk Coal Stowage Factor

Stowage factor is a measurement used in the shipping industry to express the space occupied by a given cargo in relation to its weight. It is usually expressed in cubic feet per long ton (1 long ton equals 2,240 pounds or 1,016 kilograms) or cubic meters per metric ton. The stowage factor of a cargo helps to determine the most efficient way to load and transport it in a ship, taking into account the available space and weight capacity.

For bulk coal, the stowage factor can vary depending on factors such as:

  1. Coal type: There are several types of coal, including anthracite, bituminous, sub-bituminous, and lignite, each with different densities and characteristics. Denser coals, like anthracite, will have lower stowage factors, whereas less dense coals, like lignite, will have higher stowage factors.
  2. Size and shape: The size and shape of coal particles can also affect the stowage factor. Finely ground or powdered coal will have a higher stowage factor, as it takes up more space due to its smaller particle size and the air gaps between particles.
  3. Moisture content: The moisture content of the coal can influence its stowage factor. Wet coal is heavier and can take up more space, resulting in a higher stowage factor compared to dry coal.

As a general guideline, the stowage factor for bulk coal can range from approximately 35 to 45 cubic feet per long ton (1.00 to 1.30 cubic meters per metric ton). However, it is crucial to consult specific information about the type, size, and moisture content of the coal being shipped to determine a more accurate stowage factor for planning and loading purposes.

Taking the stowage factor into account, shipping companies can optimize the loading and unloading of bulk coal, ensuring that the cargo is transported efficiently and safely while minimizing the risk of overloading or damage to the ship.


Top Coal Exporting Countries:

  1. Indonesia: Indonesia is the largest coal exporter in the world. The country has extensive coal reserves, primarily in the provinces of South Sumatra, East Kalimantan, and South Kalimantan. Indonesia mainly exports thermal coal used in power generation.
  2. Australia: Australia is the second-largest coal exporter globally. The country has significant coal reserves, mainly located in the states of New South Wales and Queensland. Australia exports both thermal coal (used in power generation) and metallurgical coal (used in steel production).
  3. Russia: Russia is a major coal exporter, with significant coal reserves located in the Siberian region and the Far East. The country exports both thermal and metallurgical coal to various international markets.
  4. The United States: The United States is one of the top coal exporters, with vast coal reserves located primarily in the Appalachian region, the Powder River Basin, and the Illinois Basin. The U.S. exports both thermal and metallurgical coal, although its domestic consumption has been declining due to the shift towards cleaner energy sources.
  5. Colombia: Colombia is a significant coal exporter, with most of its coal reserves located in the Guajira and Cesar departments. The country mainly exports thermal coal to various international markets.
  6. South Africa: South Africa is another major coal exporter, with significant coal reserves located primarily in the Mpumalanga province. The country exports both thermal and metallurgical coal.
  7. Canada: Canada is also a notable coal exporter, with coal reserves primarily located in the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. Canada exports both thermal and metallurgical coal to various international markets.

These countries play a crucial role in the global coal market, supplying energy and raw materials for various industries worldwide. It’s important to note that the rankings and production figures may change over time due to fluctuations in demand, mining investments, and global economic conditions. Additionally, the global shift towards cleaner energy sources may impact the long-term demand for coal exports.