Break bulk cargo

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Break bulk cargo
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Break-bulk cargo is a type of cargo that is transported in bags, crates, boxes, barrel, drums and usually safely stacked on a pallet, but it is not containerized and transported loose. Each cargo must be individually loaded on a board of a ship which is usually called general cargo ship. If the cargo is too heavy or too large it is loaded on a specialized ship, which has a spacious open deck or a part which is semi-submerisible[1].

The biggest disadvantage of break-bulk cargo is the fact, that it needs more workforce at the end and at the beginning of transport. This workforce is named stevedores and they make activities, such a:

  • loading ships and warehouses,
  • taking care of the space on board,
  • secure the goods,

Unitization of break-bulk cargo

Break-bulk cargo is very laborious, that is why there is need to huge groups of stevedores are working at the same time with the same load. However, their amount of commitment to work for a man-hour depends on many factors:

  • type of product, which is loaded,
  • type of packaging,
  • atmospheric conditions,
  • no limited space on board,

In the 1950s and 1960s work norm per working hour was 1 ton, then took place unitization of break-bulk cargo and productivity increased. In a developed country, in 1985, productivity reached 3 tones per man-hour. Moreover, in America, employees earned about $10-20 per tone and in Europe, half of American's earnings[2].

It is possible to point out types of unitization of brak-bulk cargo[3] :

  1. Container cargoes - In the latter 1960s appeared container cargoes, which could fit more goods in containers. But break-bulk cargoes were not supplanted by them and what are more break-bulk ships began to run more often, because of many reasons. One of these reason is the fact that not every type of cargo is being able to transport in a container (for example coffee). What is more container ship is more expensive.
  2. Pallets - Pallets provide security for the goods. Stevedores place the goods on pallets in such a way that everything suits the container or deck area accordingly.
  3. Barges - this method involves loading goods onto specially constructed barges, which are loaded onto a ship transporting barges with a crane. Barges are usually used in developing countries that have extensive inland navigation.
  4. Roll-on/ roll-off trades - until the 1960s they were used for short routes, but these days they run on transoceanic routes. The reason for their invention was to improve the loading and unloading of the ship. However, they had lots of requirements, which relate to containers, uncrated export cars and large indivisible loads.



  1. Rowbotham J.M. (2014), p. 56
  2. Jonsson J.O., Shneerson D.(2012), p. 23-26
  3. Buxton I.L., Daggitt R.P., King J. (2012), p. 31, 32

Author: Milena Kurczek