Find a Security Clearance Job!


Break-Bulk Cargo

"Break-bulk" cargo handling is the method employed since the earliest days of shipping. A bulk of cargo is broken down into groups that can be handled by the equipment available. Break bulk cargo is cargo that may be affixed to a pallet. Palletized cargo is organized in such a way as to facilitate the loading into the ship by crane or derrick. The ship may carry some bulk cargo, some break bulk and some containers. Smaller, inter-island ships generally carry a variety of cargo sizes, types and containers. Although that method has worked for many years, containerization is the cargo handling method for the future.

For deep draft trades, domestic and international, dry bulk goods use bulk ships. Liquid bulk moves in ocean-going tankers. General cargoes move in container ships or break bulk ships. Ocean-going barges also are used to transport these commodities. General cargo carriers use liner ships to move containers and break bulk ships to move other general cargoes. Because about 80 percent of general cargo moves in containers, liners are the most common type of ship used to transport these higher value goods. Break bulk ships are used for noncontainerized freight or for mixed loads where containerized and non-containerized freight is being hauled.

Traditionally (before the 1960s), high-value cargo was moved using break-bulk packaging and shipping techniques. During the "break-bulk" era, high-value cargo was packaged in cases or pallets for shipment and loaded and unloaded on a piece-by-piece or pallet-by-pallet basis. Easy access encouraged the theft of electronics, appliances, clothes, engine parts, liquor, cosmetics, and cigarettes from terminals (including warehouses, docks, and transfer points) and during loading, unloading, and shipment.

During the 1950s, high levels of pilferage from break-bulk shipments, combined with promises of increased efficiency, encouraged the U.S. military to experiment with containers. First used by military traffic commands, containers were extended to commercial use in the mid-1960s. Container use has continued to grow steadily in the United States and is projected to grow at 6 percent annually. Presently, 80 percent of U.S. overseas cargo trade is containerized. Over 60 percent of the world's deep-sea general cargo is transported in containers. Worldwide, more than 400 ports have the capability to handle containers.

Many ocean carriers are now shipping cargoes in containers rather than break bulk. Generally speaking, the use of containers reduces the amount of handling that individual bags of cargo must receive thereby reducing the possibility of losses. Containers have become the primary means for shipping cargo between economically strong and stable countries. Along these trade routes, containerization of cargo approaches 100 percent. Containerized shipping is crucial in routes across the North Atlantic, and between the United States and Japan and neighboring countries. The technology and capital investments required to load, ship, store, and unload containers, however, limit their use on routes involving Less-Developed Countries (LDCs). In these markets, cargo is usually shipped according to the non-containerized classifications of bulk, break-bulk, and neo-bulk.

Terminals to handle transported containers require more land for storage and transfer than do break-bulk or bulk terminals. Containers have received wide acceptance in the transportation industry, however, because of their numerous benefits in operating efficiency, including: Goods can be handled in less time, utilizing fewer personnel; Goods are better unitized and protected during shipment; and more goods can be shipped in a "unified" package that does not need to be transloaded at ports or terminals, but can be shipped directly to the destination.

Break-bulk marine transport is widely used to transport tree fruit, grapes, and bananas to and from ports lacking container-van loading facilities. This system is also used on older or smaller ships that have common cold storage rooms. The break-bulk designation refers to an older system in which individual packages are re-handled each time the cargo is transferred from one mode of transport to another. This method is costly due to slow loading and unloading, rough handling, and high labor costs. Break-bulk marine shipping dominates in certain trade lanes but is slowly losing ground to containerized shipping. In general, reefer ships are more efficient for trade lanes dominated by refrigerated products. Container ships predominate in trade lanes with a large share of dry freight.

In most break-bulk systems, packed products are handled as pallet units. When a pallet load is broken apart, its inner surfaces are exposed to ambient conditions, which can increase product deterioration. These problems are minimized in newer ships that can handle pallet loads and have better refrigeration systems. Packed products in pallet units are sometimes transported part of the way in break-bulk ships, transferred at a port to marine containers, and transported in container ships to final destination ports.

While the growth in containerized cargo will have the greatest impact on future US shipping trends, bulk and break-bulk cargo will remain extremely important through 2020. Break-bulk cargo vessels carry their shipments in barrels, bags, pallets, or other units. Bulk and break-bulk cargoes make up half of all cargo (by volume) entering or leaving the United States, and will continue to account for a large portion in 2020.

Cargo freight rates for these vessels that operate in the Atlantic have remained relatively stable as demand for shipments between the United States and Europe has fluctuated. In the Pacific market, Asian economic difficulties and currency devaluations have greatly reduced the demand for cargo shipments from the United States to Asia, but the demand for shipments from Asia to the United States has actually increased. Generally, when one market slows down, excess vessels can be moved quickly into other markets. Thus the outlook for bulk and break-bulk cargo vessels should be stable for the foreseeable future. Break-bulk cargo will remain critically important in U.S. maritime trade, but because no major changes in this field are expected, the demands on port infrastructure, vessel safety, and law enforcement efforts, from this sector of the market, will remain relatively stable.

Cargo ships have been used for hundreds of years for the transportation of break bulk goods such as cocoa beans, coffee, sugar and rice. Typically, the goods are shipped from a country where the goods are grown where manual labor may be plentiful and relatively inexpensive to a more industrialized country where the goods are processed and/or consumed and where labor costs become a significant expense.

In the shipping industry, profit is made by keeping the ships on the move without significant delays in docking time for loading and unloading of goods which are being transported. When a ship comes to port, depending on the harbor, pilot tugs or the like may be employed to bring the ship to dock. Once docked, it is relatively impractical and inefficient to move the ship until it is ready to depart for its next destination.

Join the mailing list