Breakbulk Shipping

Breakbulk Shipping

Breakbulk shipping is a specialised method used for transporting oversized, heavy, or uniquely shaped cargo that cannot be shipped in standard containers. This approach involves loading goods individually or in various packaging types such as boxes, crates, or directly onto the ship’s deck. Ideal for handling large construction materials, heavy machinery, and other non-containerised items, breakbulk shipping remains a crucial option for complex freight needs. 

This resource explores the processes, benefits, and considerations of breakbulk shipping, providing a comprehensive overview for those involved in large-scale or specialised transport projects.


  • Breakbulk Shipping Defined: A logistics method for transporting cargo that is too large or heavy for standard shipping containers, including items like machinery, construction materials, and large vehicles.
  • How It Works: Cargo is loaded individually or in non-standard packaging, often using specialised equipment like cranes and flatbeds, and transported on vessels designed for heavy or oversized loads.
  • Key Advantages: Breakbulk shipping allows for the transport of oversized items in their assembled state, reducing the need for disassembly and reassembly, and often provides flexibility in choosing ports that may not have container handling facilities.

Types of Commodities Suitable for Breakbulk Shipping

The realm of breakbulk shipping is best suited for specific categories of goods that are robust, diverse in size, and often need to be transported in large volumes across the globe. Here are some of the common commodities that require breakbulk shipping:

  • Diverse and Non-Uniform Items: Breakbulk is the go-to choice for goods that defy containerization due to their varied sizes or awkward shapes—think machinery parts, industrial equipment, or oversized vehicles.
  • Bulk Liquids: Often, liquid commodities such as oils are moved in massive quantities using the breakbulk method. While generally not used for hazardous liquids due to safety considerations, it is a common sight for non-dangerous bulk liquids.
  • Raw Minerals and Agricultural Products: Breakbulk ships frequently carry vast amounts of raw minerals like iron ore, coal, and agricultural bulk such as grain and salt. The economic efficiency of moving such goods in large quantities outweighs the minor losses that might occur during transit.

Packing for Breakbulk Shipping

The packing strategy for breakbulk cargo requires careful consideration of the item’s nature and the shipping conditions it will endure.

Common packing materials and containers include:

  • Crates: Wooden or metal crates offer sturdy protection, making them ideal for heavy or delicate machinery.
  • Pallets: Goods are stacked and secured on pallets, providing stable bases for easy handling during loading and unloading.
  • Slip Sheets: These are used as a pallet alternative, with goods being loaded directly onto these sheets made of heavy-duty plastic, paper, or fiber.
  • Bales: For fibrous materials like cotton or hay, baling secures the product tightly together, making it easier to move and stack.
  • Bulk Bags: Also known as flexible intermediate bulk containers, these large bags are designed to carry significant volumes of dry products.
  • Barrels: Typically used for liquids or granular materials, barrels are a traditional means of transporting smaller quantities of bulk goods.

Choosing the correct packaging is crucial, as it must not only protect the cargo but also conform to the ship’s storage capabilities and the demands of the voyage. Collaboration with an experienced logistics partner is key—they can guide the choice of packing materials and oversee the efficient handling of your breakbulk shipment from the warehouse to the ship.

Pros and Cons of Breakbulk Shipping

When evaluating the method of breakbulk shipping, here are some advantages and disadvantages to determine its suitability for your freight needs: 

Advantages of Breakbulk Shipping

  • Package Flexibility: Breakbulk shipping offers significant flexibility. There’s no need to balance goods across containers, allowing for the shipment of items in their entirety, which is especially beneficial for oversized or awkwardly shaped goods.
  • Global Accessibility: Breakbulk cargo can be handled at most ports around the world. It avoids the complexities of container unloading, not requiring the heavy deck cranes or specialized equipment that container offloading does.
  • Speed: Breakbulk cargo is typically quicker to load and unload since there’s no need for container organisation. This can save valuable time in the supply chain, a crucial factor for businesses with tight schedules.
  • Established Network: With a long history in global shipping, breakbulk shipping is supported by a vast network of ports. You can find ports capable of handling breakbulk cargo virtually everywhere, contributing to its global reach.

Disadvantages of Breakbulk Shipping

  • Higher Costs: Breakbulk cargo is often more costly to ship due to its oversized nature and the fact that it can’t be stacked as high as containerised cargo, resulting in less efficient use of space on a vessel.
  • Labour Intensity: Although it might not require cranes, breakbulk shipping can be labor-intensive. The physical labor involved in loading and unloading can add significant costs to the shipping process.
  • Security Concerns: The open-air nature of breakbulk shipping may increase the risk of cargo being damaged, lost, or stolen during transit. With goods not secured within containers, there’s a lack of uniform security measures.

Bulk vs Breakbulk Shipping: Understanding the Distinctions

In the realm of maritime logistics, the terms “bulk” and “breakbulk” are often bandied about, yet they denote distinct methods of cargo handling.

Bulk Cargo Explained

Bulk cargo refers to the transportation of goods that are loose, directly loaded and carried in the ship’s hold without any immediate containment. Common bulk cargo includes raw minerals such as coal or iron ore and agricultural commodities like grain.

Breakbulk Cargo Defined

Breakbulk cargo, by contrast, is characterised by goods that are individually packaged in smaller units like drums, pallets, bags, or crates. Ships that carry such cargo are equipped with the necessary gear for the precise handling of these packaged items, often necessitating more labor-intensive loading and unloading processes.

Considerations for Breakbulk Shipping

Breakbulk shipping presents a nuanced choice for businesses with cargo that defies standard shipping conventions. Here’s a summary of strategic considerations to weigh before opting for breakbulk shipping services:

1. Detailed Planning

Initiating breakbulk shipping demands meticulous planning. Ensure you map out every detail of the logistics process before your cargo sets sail.

2. Secure Packaging

Opt for robust, possibly airtight, packaging solutions. This step is crucial in safeguarding your goods against the elements and potential damages during their journey.

3. Collaboration with Manufacturers

Engage in thorough discussions with your manufacturer about shipping strategies. Explore packaging designs that complement breakbulk requirements and enhance transport safety.

4. Selecting the Right Logistics Partner

The complexity of breakbulk shipping underscores the importance of a proficient logistics partner. Research and choose a partner that aligns with your cargo needs and has a proven track record in breakbulk shipping.

For businesses considering large-scale global transportation, breakbulk shipping could indeed be the most viable and cost-effective solution. Should you require expert guidance or a detailed quotation on breakbulk shipping, don’t hesitate to reach out to M&P International Freights – your trusted logistics partner in navigating the intricacies of breakbulk transportation.

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