Grain Shipping

Most grains traded in bulk on the world’s oceans are destined for human or animal consumption, and include wheat, sorghum, soy, rice and the seeds of such crops as rape, sunflower, flax and cotton. Some have been further processed into pellets or meal. Annual carrying by sea amount to some 220 million tons, in bulk carriers very similar to those used in the coal and ore trades. Most grains have a similar stowage factor to that of coal (for example, bulk wheat stows at about 45 – 50 cubic feet per tonne). If you look in the shipping press at the details of reported fixtures in the grain market, you will frequently see cargoes described as “HSS”. This is a shipping term referring to Heavy Grains, Soyabeans and Sorghums, which have a bulk stowage factor of about 50 cubic feet per tonne. Some grains and seeds carried in bulk can be regarded as dangerous cargo, in that they are prone to shifting at sea. To avoid this problem, some ships have “self trimming” facilities or special wing tanks which will “bleed” cargo into the main hold to ensure that there is no space left in the hold to allow the cargo to shift. Alternatively, the free surface of bulk grain cargoes may have to be “over-stowed” with bagged grain to stabilize it. Loading is usually by grain elevators from shore silos. As with all cargo handling, time is money, and sophisticated grain loading equipment is capable of loading ships at a rate of 30,000 tonnes per day or more. Discharging facilities may vary considerably, the fastest and most efficient being the pneumatic suction systems in use at most of the world‘s major grain importing ports, though other methods include mechanical bucket or screw elevators and in some cases, simply grabbing out with shore cranes. Production of grain for export is concentrated naturally enough in the fertile agricultural areas of the world, such as the Canadian and North American “grain belt”, Argentina Uruguay and Brazil in South America, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and its neighbors in the Far East. Grains and seeds are purchased by the highly populated industrial areas of the world, but are also shipped to many third world countries as seed for planting, human or animal consumption or in the worst cases for famine relief. Like all agricultural products, the volume of grain available for trading worldwide depends upon the quality of the harvest in different parts of the world. This will affect volumes, prices, availability and ultimately trading patterns to some extent. In addition to the coal, ores and grains mentioned above, there is a further 890 million tons of “dry bulk” cargo moved by sea every year, which does not belong to any of these categories. This includes such commodities as steel, minerals, fertilizers, building materials, timber, manufactured goods and so on. Some of these products will require specialized ships, such as refrigerated (“reefer”) carriers for fruit, vegetables, fruit juices and meat products. These ships will have insulated holds equipped with refrigeration equipment to keep their high-value cargoes at exactly the right temperature range. They are also likely to be designed for a relatively high speed, so that the produce can be delivered quickly and in good condition. Other sectors within this heading needing specialized vessels would include the motor vehicle and livestock trades.