Dry Bulk Seaborne Commodity Trades

Dry Bulk Seaborne Commodity Trades

Dry bulk trades are extremely important in the shipping industry, and seaborne commodities are significant contributors to the growth of the world economy. There are three major dry bulk commodities:

  • Iron Ore
  • Coal (Steam Coal and Coking Coal)
  • Grains

Iron ore and coking coal are the raw materials for steel, the main material used in the construction and manufacturing industries. Steam coal is the main energy source for generating power.

Grain is the most important commodity for the food industry. Another category of dry bulk cargoes are termed minor bulks, and they include sugar, agricultural and forest products, steel products, cement, etc.

There has been a continuous increase in the trade of the three major dry bulk commodities. Specifically, the iron ore trade, the largest trade in the dry bulk market, was 516 million tons in 2003, and by 2011 It had increased to 1,052 million tons. In 2013, the trade-in iron ore reached 1,174 million tons. The total coal trade was 601 million tons in 2003, and in 2013 it increased to 1,122 million tons. The total trade in grains in 2003 was at 272 million tons, and in 2013 it increased to 335 million tons. The biggest importer in iron ore is China, which was expected to import 779 million tons of iron ore in 2013, mainly from Australia, which is the biggest exporter of iron ore, with 542 million tons in 2013. The biggest importer of coking coal is Japan. Just like iron ore, the biggest exporter in coking coal is Australia. Japan is a major importer of grain and Argentina has been one of the countries considered to be a major exporter.

Capesize vessels are dry bulk carriers that move large quantities of iron ore, coal, and other commodity raw materials. The size range of Capesize vessels is 100 to 200,000 DWT.
The main routes for Capesize vessels include Tubarao-BeilunBao (ore), Tubarao-Japan (ore), Richards Bay-Rotterdam (coal), and Queensland-Japan (coal). The average annual freight rates for all the Capesize main routes have fallen since 2008 due to the global economic recession. For instance, in 2008 the average freight rate for a 165,000 DWT Capesize vessel on a trip from Tubarao to China or Japan was around $60 per ton whereas in 2012 it was less than $20 per ton.

Panamax is a dry bulk carrier-capable of transiting the Panama Canal that mainly transfers coal or grain cargoes. The size range of Panamax ships is 60,000 to 100,000 DWT. The main routes for Panamax trades in coal include US Gulf-Antwerp/Rotterdam/Amsterdam (ARA), New South Wales (NSW)-Japan. Average freight rates have fallen in recent years for all major routes.

Handymax ships are used for less voluminous cargoes. These smaller ships usually have their own cranes for loading and are used for small ports with limited infrastructure. The size range of Handymax ships is 30,000 to 50,000 DWT. The main trade routes include Europe to the Far East, Atlantic round-voyage, and Pacific round-voyage. As with all dry bulk carrier routes freight rates have fallen significantly over the last five years.

Handysize is a dry bulk carrier that is particularly adaptable for entering smaller ports for cargo operations. The size range of Handysize vessels is 10,000 to 40,000 DWT. A Handysize bulk carrier usually carries agri-bulks, metals and minerals, and general cargo. The main routes for Handysize trades include UK Continent -Mediterranean, East Coast South America-West Coast South America, and Far East-Gulf/West Africa. Handysize rates decreased further in 2012 compared to previous years. The one-year time charter rate for a 30,000 DWT vessel began the year at an already relatively low level of $9,750 per day and then decreased continuously to reach $7,852 per day by the end of 2012.

The Dry Bulk Seaborne Commodity Trade is a key element in global trading. The primary commodities that are traded in this market include iron ore, coal (both thermal and coking), grain, bauxite/alumina, phosphates, and minor bulks, which include fertilizers, steel products, cement, sugar, and so on.

Here is a detailed description of each commodity:

Iron Ore: This is the most significant dry bulk commodity in terms of volume. It’s primarily shipped from countries like Australia and Brazil to China, which is the world’s largest consumer of iron ore, as it forms the primary raw material for steel production. Other major importers include Japan, South Korea, and the European Union.

Coal: This includes both thermal coal, used in power stations to generate electricity, and coking or metallurgical coal, used in steel production. Major exporters of coal include Indonesia, Australia, the USA, and Russia. Major importers include China, India, Japan, and several countries in Europe.

Grain: This includes wheat, corn, soybeans, barley, and other such crops. The US, Canada, Russia, Ukraine, and Argentina are some of the major exporters, while China, European Union countries, Japan, and Middle Eastern countries are significant importers.

Bauxite/Alumina: Bauxite, the primary ore used to produce aluminum, and its refined form, alumina, are also significant in the dry bulk trade. Major exporters include Australia, Guinea, and Brazil, while China is the major importer.

Phosphates: Phosphates are primarily used to produce fertilizers. Morocco is the largest exporter of phosphates, and India is a significant importer.

Minor Bulks: This is a category that includes a wide variety of other commodities such as fertilizers, steel products, cement, sugar, etc.

The dry bulk seaborne commodity trade’s primary vessel types include Capesize, Panamax, and Supramax bulk carriers, each serving different routes and carrying different types and volumes of cargo based on their size.

It is important to note that the seaborne trade in these commodities is influenced by a number of factors, including global economic growth, weather conditions, trade policies, technological advancements, and changing patterns of global demand and supply.


The dry bulk shipping sector is quite volatile, and market conditions can change quickly. However, it remains a vital part of the global economy due to its role in transporting essential commodities. Here are some additional points to consider:

Sulphur and Sulphuric Acid: Sulphur and sulphuric acid are used in a wide variety of industries, including the manufacture of fertilizers, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals. Canada and the Middle East are among the largest exporters, while major importers include China, India, and Morocco.

Salt: Salt, either in the form of sea salt or rock salt, is used in a wide variety of applications, from food production to de-icing roads in colder countries. The Netherlands, Mexico, and the United States are major exporters, and the United States, Canada, and Japan are significant importers.

Petcoke (Petroleum Coke): Petcoke is a byproduct of oil refining and is used as a fuel source in power generation and cement production. The United States is the world’s largest producer and exporter, with China and India being major importers.

Forestry Products: This category includes wood chips, logs, and pellets, which are used for various purposes, including the production of paper and the generation of bioenergy. Major exporting regions include North America, Russia, and Southeast Asia, while major importing regions include China, Japan, and Europe.

These commodities are primarily carried in Handysize, Handymax, and Supramax vessels, which are smaller than the Capesize and Panamax vessels used to transport iron ore and coal.

In terms of dry bulk shipping, factors such as fuel costs, environmental regulations, political stability, and the availability of ports and infrastructure also play critical roles in the industry. Shipping rates are typically measured by the Baltic Dry Index (BDI), which is a composite of the Baltic Capesize, Panamax, Supramax, and Handysize indices.

In recent years, there has been a growing emphasis on sustainability within the industry, with increasing attention being paid to issues such as emissions reduction, ballast water management, and the broader environmental impact of shipping. This is leading to a gradual shift towards more environmentally friendly fuels and propulsion methods, which is expected to have a significant impact on the industry in the coming years.


What are the Major Dry Bulk Trades?

Dry bulk trades refer to the trade of large quantities of raw materials shipped around the world. There are several major types, but the five main dry bulk trades typically include:

  1. Iron Ore: This is the largest dry bulk trade, both in terms of cargo movement and ton-mile demand. Iron ore is primarily used in steel production. Australia and Brazil are the largest exporters, with China being the largest importer due to its high demand for steel manufacturing.
  2. Coal: The second largest dry bulk trade, coal is used primarily for electricity generation and steel production. It is exported from countries with large coal deposits, such as Australia, Indonesia, Russia, and the United States, and imported by countries like China and India.
  3. Grains: This includes the trade of wheat, corn, barley, oats, rye, and soybeans. The United States, Canada, Australia, and Argentina are the primary exporters, while the largest importers are generally developing countries.


What Is a Dry Bulk Commodity? 

A dry bulk commodity is a raw, primary material that is traded on an international scale in large quantities. These commodities are usually loose and transported in bulk, meaning that they are shipped without packaging. They are typically of uniform quality and produced in large quantities by numerous different producers, making the commodities interchangeable.

The term “dry” refers to the fact that these goods are solid and not liquid. Examples of dry bulk commodities include minerals like coal and iron ore, grains like wheat and corn, and other raw materials like cement, steel, and plastic granules.

Dry bulk commodities are often the building blocks of our societies, serving as the raw materials for everything from the food we eat, the houses we live in, the cars we drive, to the energy we consume. They are typically transported by large dry bulk carriers, which are specially designed ships capable of handling these types of goods.


What is the Seaborne Commodity Trade?

Seaborne commodity trade refers to the transportation of commodities such as raw materials (e.g., coal, iron ore), energy (e.g., crude oil, natural gas), and food (e.g., grains, soybeans) by sea, typically in bulk cargo ships.

This form of trade plays a vital role in the global economy as it connects exporters and importers from different countries and continents. It’s responsible for a substantial portion of global trade by volume and value.

Maritime transportation is typically more cost-effective than other methods for large quantities and long distances, making it the preferred mode of transportation for many commodities. However, it’s influenced by various factors including weather conditions, geopolitical events, global commodity prices, and changes in regulations and policies.

The seaborne commodity trade also plays a significant role in determining freight rates. For example, an increase in the demand for certain commodities will drive up the number of ships needed to transport them, which can, in turn, affect the cost of shipping.

Different types of ships are used depending on the type of commodity being transported. For instance, oil and gas are typically transported in tankers, while dry bulk carriers are used for commodities like coal and iron ore. Container ships are used for a variety of goods, often packaged or in amounts that are smaller than a full shipload.


What are the Major Dry Bulk Trade Routes?

Dry bulk trade refers to the transportation of homogenous bulk commodities in large quantities. Some key commodities include iron ore, coal, grain, bauxite/alumina, and phosphate rock, among others. Dry bulk shipping occurs via a network of trade routes that span the globe.

Here are some of the major dry bulk trade routes:

  1. Australia to China: This is one of the most significant dry bulk trade routes globally and is primarily used for iron ore and coal shipping. Australia is one of the world’s largest exporters of these commodities, while China is the largest consumer.
  2. Brazil to China: This route mainly transports iron ore from Brazil’s rich mines to feed China’s insatiable demand. The country’s economic growth has made it the world’s leading consumer of commodities.
  3. Indonesia to China: This route predominantly caters to the coal trade. Indonesia is one of the world’s leading coal exporters, and China is a significant importer of coal.
  4. Black Sea to the Mediterranean and Northern Europe: This route primarily serves the grain trade. The countries around the Black Sea, particularly Russia and Ukraine, are significant exporters of grain, and Europe is a key destination.
  5. U.S. Gulf to Japan and South Korea: This route transports primarily grain and soybean from the fertile regions of the U.S. Midwest to East Asia, where there is high demand for these commodities.
  6. West Africa to China: This is a significant route for the transport of bauxite and iron ore. Guinea in West Africa, for example, has the world’s largest bauxite reserves and has been increasing exports to China.
  7. Middle East to Japan, South Korea, and China: This route is primarily used for phosphate rock and other raw materials necessary for fertilizers.
  8. Canada to Europe and Asia: This route carries grain from the fertile provinces of Canada to consumers in Europe and Asia.
  9. South America to Europe and Asia: This route is essential for the transport of soybeans, corn, and other grains from Argentina, Brazil, and other South American countries to Europe and Asia.

These routes can change and evolve due to factors such as geopolitical considerations, changes in production or demand, weather conditions, and shifts in the global economy.


What is Dry Bulk Cargo?

Dry bulk cargo refers to commodities transported in large quantities, without packaging, in the hulls of ships, typically in a raw, non-manufactured state. This can include things such as grains (like wheat, corn, and soybeans), coal, iron ore, cement, sugar, salt, sand, and other kinds of minerals.

These materials are termed “dry bulk” because they are solid and dry, differentiating them from liquid bulk cargoes like oil and chemicals. They are called “bulk” because they are transported in large volumes at a time, often thousands of tons, and are loaded and unloaded with shovels, buckets, and conveyors rather than being packaged in individual units.

The design and operation of dry bulk carriers, the type of ship used to transport this kind of cargo, are specifically geared towards efficient loading, transport, and unloading of these types of materials. Dry bulk cargoes are an essential part of international trade, particularly for industries like construction, energy production, and food manufacturing.

What is Dry Bulk Cargo vs Break Bulk Cargo?

  1. Dry Bulk Cargo: This is a type of cargo that is un-packaged and transported in large quantities. It includes commodities like coal, iron ore, grains, cement, and other similar materials. These goods are usually loaded onto a vessel in a loose condition and then discharged at the destination. The main characteristic of dry bulk cargo is that it is homogeneous and can be poured directly into a ship’s hold. Large specialized ships known as bulk carriers are used to transport dry bulk cargo.
  2. Break Bulk Cargo: This type of cargo, on the other hand, is shipped as individual pieces or units. These cargoes are typically bagged, bundled, palletized, or drummed, and are loaded and unloaded piece by piece. This type of cargo is more labour-intensive as each piece of goods has to be handled individually. Items such as machinery, paper, linens, and auto parts are typically categorized as break bulk cargo. It is called ‘break bulk’ because each piece of cargo must be broken down from its container or skid to be loaded onto the ship, and then put back together when it reaches its destination.

The key difference between the two is primarily how the cargo is packaged and handled during transport. Dry bulk cargo is homogeneous, unpackaged and handled in bulk, whereas break bulk cargo is individual, often packaged units that are handled separately.


What type of vessel is dry bulk?

A dry bulk vessel is a type of ship designed to transport unpackaged bulk cargo, such as grains, coal, ore, steel coils, and cement, among other materials. These vessels are equipped with large cargo holds that are used to store the dry bulk cargo.

There are different sizes and types of dry bulk vessels, including:

  1. Handysize: These are the smallest dry bulk carriers, with a capacity of up to 35,000 tonnes. They are often used for transporting steel and lumber.
  2. Handymax: These vessels have a capacity of up to 50,000 tonnes and are typically used for the transport of grains and minor bulks like steel products, forest products, and fertilizers.
  3. Supramax: Slightly larger than the Handymax, these vessels can carry up to 60,000 tonnes and have onboard cranes, allowing them to load and unload cargo in ports that do not have their own equipment.
  4. Panamax: These are the largest dry bulk vessels that can pass through the Panama Canal, with a capacity of up to 80,000 tonnes.
  5. Capesize: These large carriers, with a capacity of around 180,000 tonnes, are too big to pass through the Panama and Suez canals, and thus must navigate around the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn. They are primarily used for transporting iron ore and coal.

Dry bulk vessels are integral to global trade, connecting producers of raw materials with global markets.


What are Major and Minor Dry Bulk Commodities?

Dry bulk commodities refer to raw materials that are shipped in large, unpackaged amounts. These commodities play a crucial role in global trade and are typically categorized as either major or minor, depending on their overall contribution to trade volume and their importance in the global market. Here’s a closer look at each category:

  1. Major Dry Bulk Commodities:These are commodities that are shipped in the largest volumes and make up a significant portion of dry bulk trade. Here are the most commonly traded major dry bulk commodities:
    • Iron Ore: Used in the production of steel, iron ore is the most traded dry bulk commodity. The majority of it is mined in countries like Australia and Brazil and shipped to countries like China, which is the largest global producer of steel.
    • Coal: Coal is primarily used for electricity generation and steel production. Australia, Indonesia, Russia, and the United States are among the largest coal producers and exporters.
    • Grain: This includes commodities such as wheat, corn, and soybeans. The United States, Brazil, and Argentina are key exporters of grain, shipping their products worldwide.
  2. Minor Dry Bulk Commodities:These commodities make up a smaller portion of the overall dry bulk trade, but they’re still essential to many industries worldwide. Here are some examples of minor dry bulk commodities:
    • Bauxite and Alumina: Bauxite is the primary ore used to produce aluminum. The major producers are Australia, China, and Guinea.
    • Phosphate Rock: This is primarily used to produce fertilizer. Morocco, China, and the United States are among the world’s top producers.
    • Cement: Cement is a key ingredient in concrete, which is essential for construction. China is the world’s top cement producer, followed by India and the United States.
    • Forest Products: This category includes logs, wood chips, and pulp, which are used in the construction and paper industries.
    • Minor Metals and Minerals: This category includes commodities like nickel, zinc, copper, lead, and others, which are used in various industries, including electronics, construction, and manufacturing.
    • Agri-Bulks: This category includes commodities such as rice, sugar, and other agricultural products.

Major dry bulk commodities include those shipped in the highest volumes, like iron ore, coal, and grain, while minor dry bulk commodities include items like bauxite, phosphate rock, and various metals and minerals.


What is a Minor Bulk Cargo?

Minor bulk cargo refers to a category of bulk cargo that is not classified under the three main types of bulk cargo: liquid bulk (like oil or chemicals), dry bulk (like coal or grain), and containerized cargo.

Minor bulk typically includes cargoes like steel products, forest products, non-ferrous metals, minerals, cement, and other similar commodities. These products often need special handling or equipment and may not be traded in the same large volumes as the main bulk commodities. The exact definition can vary depending on the specific shipping context.

These cargoes, despite being called “minor,” can still make up a substantial portion of total global seaborne trade. The term “minor” is used to distinguish these types of cargoes from the “major” bulks, but doesn’t necessarily imply they are less important.


Major Dry Bulk Commodities Vs Minor Dry Bulk Commodities

  1. Major Dry Bulk Commodities:

These are usually large-volume commodities shipped globally. They account for a significant portion of global seaborne trade and are typically shipped in large volumes. The most common types include:

  • Iron Ore: This is the primary ingredient in steel production. It is mostly mined in countries like Australia and Brazil, and shipped to countries like China, which is the world’s largest steel producer.
  • Coal: This is used mainly for electricity generation and steel production. It’s mined in many parts of the world, with major exporters including Australia, Indonesia, Russia, and the United States.
  • Grains: This category includes wheat, corn, and other types of cereals. Major exporters include the United States, Canada, Russia, and Australia.
  1. Minor Dry Bulk Commodities:

These are typically commodities that are shipped in smaller volumes compared to major dry bulk commodities. However, they still represent a substantial amount of global dry bulk trade. Minor dry bulk can include a wide variety of commodities, and some of the most common types include:

  • Bauxite and Alumina: Bauxite is the primary ore for aluminum production. The top exporters are Australia and Guinea, and it’s primarily shipped to China.
  • Phosphates: These are mainly used in the production of fertilizers. Major exporters include Morocco, Jordan, and Russia.
  • Cement: This is used in construction. It’s produced and shipped globally, with China being the largest producer.
  • Sugar: Brazil is the largest exporter of sugar, with much of it shipped to the United States, China, and other countries.
  • Other Minor Bulks: These can include commodities like gypsum, petcoke, salt, and steel products, among others.

The distinction between major and minor dry bulk commodities is not based on their importance, but rather on the volumes in which they are traded. Both major and minor dry bulk commodities play a crucial role in the global economy.


Dry Bulk Seaborne Commodity Trades Examples

The global seaborne trade of dry bulk commodities plays a vital role in the worldwide economy. These commodities consist of goods that are usually loose and traded in large quantities. Here are some examples of the most commonly traded dry bulk commodities:

  1. Iron Ore: This is one of the most significant dry bulk commodities and is crucial for the steel production industry. It is mostly exported from countries with large iron ore mines such as Australia and Brazil to countries with high steel demand like China.
  2. Coal: Coal is another major dry bulk commodity that is traded globally. It is used mainly for electricity generation and steel production. Major exporters include Australia, Indonesia, Russia, and the United States.
  3. Grains: This category includes commodities like wheat, corn, and soybeans. These are typically exported from countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, Russia, and Brazil to countries all around the world.
  4. Bauxite and Alumina: Bauxite is the primary ore for aluminum production. Significant producers include Australia, Guinea, and Brazil.
  5. Phosphate Rock: This is used to produce fertilizers and is exported by countries like Morocco, which has one of the world’s largest reserves of phosphates.
  6. Minor Bulks: This category includes commodities that aren’t traded in as large volumes as the major bulks, but are still important. Examples include wood chips, sugar, cement, steel products, etc.
  7. Agribulks: These include agricultural commodities such as sugar, raw materials for animal feed like soymeal and various other agri commodities.
  8. Potash: This commodity is mainly used as a fertilizer. Canada is the world’s largest potash producer and exporter.

Each of these commodities requires specialized handling and transportation because of their physical characteristics and the large volumes in which they are traded. As such, dry bulk shipping is an essential part of the global commodities trade.


What is Dry Bulk in Shipping?

Dry bulk shipping refers to the transport of commodities in bulk form, that are not packaged individually and are non-liquid. These commodities are typically loaded and unloaded in large volumes and are transported in large, specialized ships known as bulk carriers or bulkers.

The dry bulk commodities can be divided into major bulks and minor bulks. Major bulks include commodities like coal, iron ore, and grains, which constitute about 70% of total dry bulk trade. Minor bulks consist of numerous goods like steel products, forest products, and minerals.

Bulkers, the ships used for dry bulk shipping, are designed with large storage holds that are filled with the cargo and then emptied at the destination. These ships vary in size, ranging from small vessels known as ‘Handysize’ to the largest ones known as ‘Capesize’ (180,000 DWT) or even ‘Valemax’ (400,000 DWT).

Dry bulk shipping is an important part of global trade, helping move essential commodities from places of surplus to places of demand, often over long distances. For example, it might be used to transport iron ore from Australia to China, or grains from the United States to various parts of the world.

What is Dry Bulk Shipping?

Dry bulk shipping refers to the transportation of homogenous bulk cargoes, usually commodities, in large quantities in a vessel’s cargo hold. These vessels, often referred to as bulk carriers or bulker ships, are designed to transport unpackaged bulk cargo, such as grains, coal, ores, cement, metals, and other similar materials.

This method of shipping is named “dry bulk” to differentiate it from “wet bulk” shipping, which typically carries liquid cargoes like oil, liquefied natural gas, and other chemical products.

There are different types of bulk carriers, designed according to the type of cargo they carry and the ports they access. They range from smaller vessels like Handysize and Handymax ships, to larger vessels like Panamax, Capesize, and very large ore carriers (VLOCs).

Dry bulk shipping is an integral part of international trade, as it facilitates the efficient and large-scale transport of basic commodities. The rates for chartering dry bulk vessels can be a barometer for global economic health, since they directly correlate with the demand for commodities.


Top Dry Bulk Shipping Operators

Currently, some of the leading dry bulk shipping operators globally are:

  1. Oldendorff Carriers: Germany-based, Oldendorff Carriers operates a large fleet of bulk carriers and is one of the most well-known dry bulk operators.
  2. Pacific Basin: Headquartered in Hong Kong, Pacific Basin is a leading owner and operator of modern Handysize and Supramax dry bulk vessels.
  3. Star Bulk Carriers Corp: A Greece-based shipping company that provides worldwide transportation of dry bulk goods, including iron ore, coal, and grain.
  4. Golden Ocean Group: Bermuda-based dry bulk shipping company that mainly operates Capesize and Panamax vessels.
  5. DryShips Inc.: Greece-based, DryShips Inc. is a diversified owner and operator of ocean-going cargo vessels that operate worldwide.
  6. HandyBulk LLC: This Panama-based company operates in the dry bulk sector with a particular focus on the larger vessel classes.
  7. Navios Maritime Partners L.P.: A publicly-traded company based in Monaco, it operates a large fleet of Capesize, Panamax, Ultra-Handymax, and Handysize vessels.
  8. Diana Shipping Inc.: This is another Greece-based global provider of shipping transportation services that specializes in dry bulk cargoes.
  9. Genco Shipping & Trading Limited: A U.S.-based company specializing in the transportation of iron ore, coal, grain, steel products, and other drybulk cargoes.
  10. Safe Bulkers, Inc.: An international provider of marine drybulk transportation services, transporting bulk cargoes, particularly coal, grain, and iron ore, along worldwide shipping routes for some of the world’s largest users of marine drybulk transportation services.