Breakbulk challenges

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The biggest challenges facing the breakbulk cargo industry such as safety concerns, costs, effectiveness and the best ways to overcome them 

Breakbulk shipping is a method used to successfully transport cargo that cannot fit in standard-size shipping containers. The cargo is transported in bags, boxes, crates, drums, barrels, other handling equipment, or lifted onto a ship or barge. Breakbulk is especially useful for cargo that is difficult to break down or is too big. Instead of breaking down the product to fit into a container or bin, the shipper can send the item in its entirety.  

General cargo is all kinds of goods that are unitised and carried in defined load units including, break bulk, which refers to load carried in drums, bags, pallets, boxes and containerised cargo, which includes all types of cargo that can be shipped in a container unit.  

Although breakbulk is an extremely useful method of transportation, it does come with challenges. This article will discuss the biggest challenges facing the breakbulk cargo industry and the best ways to overcome them.  

Costs and effectiveness  

One of the main issues with breakbulk is the cost. Breakbulk shipping is usually more expensive than using containers, this is because oversized or overweight freights demand more space than goods that are stacked on top of each other. Due to the size of breakbulk cargo, more staff are required which drastically increases the cost of labour.  

However, cargo on a breakbulk vessel doesn’t have to be separated into pieces. This results in a faster delivery time. The main focus for many companies is cost and effectiveness, although breakbulk shipping is more costly, if it proves to be much more effective than containerised shipping, then this is something that companies may want to further consider. If a company places a large order from overseas, the equipment will be shipped in one piece. If the goods are containerised, it will get disassembled and shipped in a container. The company will have to pay for the order to get disassembled, packed, shipped, offloaded, delivered and then re-assembled. If it’s shipped breakbulk, it loads, offloads and gets delivered. So in some cases, breakbulk shipping can be more cost-effective as well as faster than containerised shipping.  

Safety and security  

There are several safety and security concerns regarding breakbulk shipping. Breakbulk items are often bagged, strapped or bundled for transportation. This can lead to breakage, allowing the shipment to become damaged or stolen. Because of this, it is vital that breakbulk cargo is loaded in a way that is as secure as possible. It is crucial that the breakbulk cargo is properly secured onto the Flat Frame or Platform before loading on board.   

If the breakbulk cargo is not handled well, this could cause damage to both the vessel and the goods. A careful watch is required on the operation. The best way to ensure the safety and security of breakbulk cargo, is for staff to be made aware of certain factors. A list of the proposed cargo must be obtained from the shipper, including any stowage requirements and restrictions (SOLAS, Chapter VI, Regulation 2 and CSS Code sub-chapter 1.9). A risk assessment must also be taken to assess the carriage considerations, requirements and limitations. Any ship that carries breakbulk or general cargo is required to carry an approved and up-to-date CSM, drawn up to a standard at least equivalent to the IMO guidelines and is appropriate for all the cargoes to be carried on board that ship.  

It is crucial that the staff have a comprehensive working knowledge of the stowage and securing capabilities of their ship and that they carry out risk assessments for all cargoes carried. Where vehicles are being carried, proper consideration needs to be given to the potential fire risk on board. This will require full appraisal of fire hazards, including the fuel tanks and batteries of the vehicles.  


To read more exclusive features and latest news please see our February issue here.

Media contact

Rebecca Morpeth Spayne,
Editor, International Trade Magazine
Tel: +44 (0) 1622 823 922

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