Bulk Grain Ocean Transportation
Before a vessel can load grain, local officials will carry out a thorough inspection of her holds (cargo compartments) and surrounding areas to ensure that these cargo spaces are clean and fit to receive grain cargo, with no residues remaining from the previous voyage; that there is no insect or rodent infestation; or strong odour; and that hold sides and bottoms, as well as the underside of hatch covers are rust free.
With few exceptions, handling equipment at loading ports is sophisticated, grain elevators being equipped to unload railway wagons, lorries, barges or coastal craft, and to re-load from storage silos at high speed into ocean going vessels, usually by flexible spout. It is not unusual at some ports to load 30,000 tonnes of grain in a single working day, which serves to illustrate the capacity of such equipment and the infrastructure required to feed storage silos from the surrounding growing areas.
Often the cargo will be loaded and trimmed at the expense of the shipper or charterer, the ship owner gaining terms known as ‘Free Load & Trim’, or ‘Free Load & Spout-Trim,’ In certain trades, however, (eg: grains ex Australia) it is customary for the ship owner to agree ‘Gross terms,’ meaning that he is responsible for the cost of loading and trimming the cargo.
These costs can be considerable, including overtime, stand-by labour time, anti pollution requirements and other items. It is vital therefore, that owners contemplating agreeing to such terms, first carefully investigate their liabilities (usually expressed as $ “X” per tonne) with local reliable agents, ensuring at the same time exactly what the stevedores’ quotation covers. This factor can thereafter being taken into consideration when negotiating the freight rate.
Another factor to be taken into consideration when negotiating the freight rate, and given the loading speed of which so many elevators are capable, is despatch money. If there is no congestion, vessels can often load considerably faster than the time allowed in their charter-party, leading to a sizeable sum of despatch money payable to the charterers as a bonus for speedy loading.
Consequently, loading prospects should be carefully checked before fixing, enabling an allowance for despatch money to be built into any voyage estimate.
Occasionally, vessels will be required to carry more than one grade of grain. Often this can be accommodated in the various compartments the ship has available, and the grades kept apart by what is known as ‘natural hold separation,‘ thus adequately preventing admixture of cargo. Depending on the quantities available for shipment however, and the cubic capacities of the ship’s holds, this separation may require the cutting-out of some of the cargo, and thus loss of revenue.
Ideally, such calculations should be left to the ship’s master, armed as he is with appropriate plans and knowledge of draft and trim considerations. If time does not permit such consultation, traders brokers should proceed with a degree of caution in their cargo-intake estimation. Where hold separation is impossible, either because of the cargo quantities involved or the capacities of the ship’s holds. or both; separations may be necessary in the holds themselves, requiring a suitable clause to be drawn in the charter-party/contract involved. spelling out the responsibilities of both parties.
Discharging methods vary widely, ranging from major ports with equipment as sophisticated as at the loading end; to obsolete and primitive facilities at backward ports adjacent to famine areas. Lightening overside into smaller craft is not unusual. given that certain importing areas lack deep water facilities sufficient to accommodate large ocean going vessels.
Facilities in established ports of the main importing countries are often to be based on the Pneumatic Sucker System, although others utilise mechanical unloaders, perhaps of the bucket elevator design. Certain of these major discharging ports specialise in transhipment, and in such case conveyor belts systems may be used to transfer unloaded grain either into silos for storage, or directly to barges, railway wagons and/or lorries, or even into smaller ships for onward distribution to nearby ports.
A popular method of discharging grain in less developed areas is by means of portable suction machines: vacuvators which can be wheeled into position on a ship’s deck and used to suck grain through flexible pipes from the holds overs side and into lorries: whilst yet another, albeit time consuming method, is by ship’s gear into deck positioned hoppers which in turn feed directly into road or rail vehicles, or to bagging machines.
The most basic discharging method, employed of necessity in certain parts, is by grab direct from ship’s hold to shore. This however, is a wasteful system, as it is almost impossible to avoid spillage, whilst at the same time creating unnecessary dust and contamination hazards.