What Is Break Bulk Shipping?

break bulk logistics loaded on ship

Both break bulk shipping and bulk shipping describe methods in which cargo is loaded or unloaded from a ship. The choice of using either of these methods comes down to the type of cargo being handled. In this article, we contrast break bulk shipping with bulk shipping while exploring several distinct characteristics of break bulk shipping.

Introduction to break bulk shipping

A traditional method of loading goods and materials on ships, break bulk shipping arrangements have existed since the earliest days of shipping. Break bulk shipping describes a containerization method through which cargo is loaded on a ship individually or in unitized form. Ideal for oversized objects or for materials that require individual packaging, break bulk shipping is widely used by all freight forwarding companies. Examples of goods transported under break bulk shipping arrangements include:

  • Oversized items such as structural steel and manufacturing equipment
  • Large machinery such as turbines and transformers
  • Vehicles such as tractors and construction equipment
  • Bags, boxes, crates, drums, barrels, pallets and strapped goods.

Given that no dedicated hold or space needs to be in place for the cargo, a general or multi-purpose vessel can serve for break bulk shipping.

break bulk shipping filled with crane

Used for oversized or heavy lift cargo

Equipment that cannot fit into a standard container or hold is often transported using break bulk shipping. Rather than having to disassemble them to fit before reassembly upon completion of voyage, they are directly loaded on the ship as they are. This saves time and reduce the complexity of loading and unloading these equipment.

Suitable for smaller ports

Since no containers or huge holds are required on the ship, break bulk ships can easily berth at smaller ports. Be it in terms of the depth of water or the size of the pier, smaller ports are able to accommodate break bulk ships.

More variable cost

Typically, break bulk shipping arrangements require less resources. Your wholly containerized goods are loaded onto the ship without any further steps. At the same time, since they need not be dissembled, you do not need to commit resources to reassemble them.

On the other hand, a break bulk shipping arrangement tends to compromise the load efficiency of the ship as compared to uniformed containers or holds. As such, it is possible that freight forwarding companies charge you more for using break bulk shipping.

Introduction to bulk shipping

break bulk shipping loading operations

Break bulk shipping directly contrasts with bulk shipping which has goods placed in standardized large containers or ship holds. In the case of containers, they are loaded thereafter onto the ship. Common examples of bulk shipping include iron ores, grain, phosphate and coal which are loaded directly into the hold of the bulk carrier ships. Typically, a bulk carrier ship has multiple holds, which help to separate different types of goods or be catered for different customers.

Gearless vs Geared

In order for shipping goods to be loaded or unloaded, cargo handling equipment is required. This is applicable for both break bulk and bulk shipping.

Yet not all ships have inbuilt cargo handling equipment. Known as gearless ships, these vessels do not have their own cranes or alternative handling equipment. In which case, the bulk carrier would need to berth at dedicated terminals that have these equipment to handle the goods.

On the other hand, where ships are loaded with cargo handling equipment such as cranes, they are called geared. An advantage that geared ships offer is the capability to berth at any terminal. With their own cargo handling equipment, they do not require special support or equipment from the port.

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