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Exploring Opportunities in Modern-Day Breakbulk

Currently in growth mode worldwide, breakbulk cargo allows shippers to utilize a wide array of packaging methods to get their project-related cargo aboard oceangoing vessels.

When you think about shipping goods overseas, the first vision to come to mind is probably a filled or partially-filled container that’s loaded on a ship and sent off to its destination. But what many shippers may not realize is that there is an entirely different mode that finds carriers “breaking bulk” or extracting a portion of the cargo on the ship and then shipping it in bags, drums, barrels, corrugated boxes, crates, or via some other packaging type.

Known as “breakbulk shipping,” the term applies to goods that are loaded onto ships individually (versus in bulk or via intermodal containers). According to Breakbulk Events and Media, increased demand for such transport is currently driving growth in the multipurpose shipping sector. Citing a report from global shipping consultancy Drewry, the publication paints an “increasingly positive outlook for project shippers,” with the consultancy predicting that the breakbulk sector will strengthen from the lowest levels seen in 2016.

How is Break Bulk Used?

Breakbulk cargo is usually delivered straight from a truck or train and onto a ship, but the most common method involves delivering the cargo to the dock in advance of the arrival of the ship (and for the cargo to be stored in warehouses). When the ship arrives, the cargo is then taken from the warehouse to the quay and then lifted on board by either the ship’s gear (derricks or cranes) or by the dockside cranes. The discharge of the ship is the reverse of the loading operation.

For the most part, breakbulk has an advantage in areas where port development has not kept pace with shipping technology. That’s because it requires relatively minimal shore facilities (e.g., a wharf for the ship to tie to, dock workers to assist in unloading, or warehouses to store materials for later reloading onto other forms of transport).

The Evolution of Break Bulk

Breakbulk has come a long way since coming of age in the 1960s. Changes from innovation and technological advancement have allowed us to achieve what used to be impossible. Part of this may be because the online definitions for breakbulk are vague and outdated, and they mostly related to consumer goods before the container revolution took place.

Breakbulk today is the next level of logistics, beyond containerized cargo, palletized airfreight, and in-gauge flatbeds or box trucks. It is the movement of oversized and super heavy cargo, structures, and modularized manufacturing plants.

Even more significantly, being a part of the project cargo and breakbulk industry means being part of amazing human achievements: the Panama Canal, onshore and offshore wind farms, LNG plants and other energy facilities, oil and gas development, and even your everyday water bottle, made possible through petrochemical plants.

Break Bulk Project Cargo

Dennis Devlin, Schenker Inc.’s Senior Director and Head of Business Development, North America, concurs with Schroder, and says breakbulk as a whole has expanded to the point where it includes much more than just packaged, bagged, or boxed goods that aren’t big enough to fit into a standard shipping container. Project cargo, for example, is being used in the construction of large-scale industrial initiatives (e.g., an oil and gas installation, offshore oil rig, or liquefied natural gas export terminal).

Any large-scale industrial project that has a beginning, a construction period, and a finite end, requires an end-to-end project supply chain that incorporates breakbulk cargo, according to Devlin, whose colleagues in DB Schenker’s Global Projects / Oil & Gas division work closely with shippers constructing large scale industrial facilities both in North America and overseas.

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