Basics on shipping

Bulk vs break bulk

The two basic types of cargo in transport are bulk or mass cargo and breakbulk or general cargo.

Bulk is cargoes that we cannot count in pieces. To determine their quantity, we use their mass (tonnage). For example, it will be coal, it will be natural gas, and it will be fuel. We distinguish dry, gas, and liquid bulk. Bulk cargoes in sea transport are carried by bulk carriers and liquid and gas cargoes by tankers.

Break bulk is cargoes that we can count in units contained in individual packages. General cargo in sea transport is either conventional general cargo, for example, transported in bags or boxes, or containerized cargo transported in ISO containers. General cargo is transported by general cargo carriers or container ships.

In maritime transport, containers may also be adjusted to carry bulk cargo. An example of a containerized bulk cargo is fuel transported in tanks in a container frame or sugar poured into a large bag that, when filled, adheres to the walls of the container. The main point is that the sugar does not spill out and gets dirty during loading and unloading. If sugar is transported in large bags, which are reloaded individually, it will be conventional general cargo; it will be a containerized load if it is poured into a container.

Bulk and break bulk cargoes can also be transported in maritime transport in means of road and rail transport on the RORO ships. RORO comes from roll on – roll off, meaning that a truck or a railway wagon enters or leaves the ship rolling on the plank through the open hatch of the ship. RORO ships are often mixed passenger and cargo ferries.

Liner vs tramp shipping

Liner shipping is a service carried out according to a predetermined itinerary where the ship calls at predetermined ports on a predetermined calendar according to a schedule. Typical liner shipping is container shipping. Shippers book a slot on the ship, deliver the containerized cargo to the container quay several or several dozen hours earlier before the ship enters a given port. The container line operator’s IT system determines where to put the container is the ship’s hold to unload it quickly at the port of destination specified by the shipper. And according to this plan, the container is loaded onto the ship at the port of origin and then unloaded at the port of destination. Tramp shipping is about chartering ships for a specific time or a specific journey. Ships go where they are needed and not according to a predetermined schedule.

Generally, we can assume that general cargo (break bulk), including containerized cargo, is transported by liner shipping and bulk cargo (mass cargo) and project cargo by tramp shipping. Therefore, liner shipping carries loads from many different senders. These are, of course, smaller cargo batches. On the other hand, tramp shipping handles large commercial contracts, for example, large orders for crude oil, large coal orders, or even one-off special orders, such as a delivery of components for a large ship-to-shore gantry to a newly built container quay.

Transoceanic vs feeder vs short-sea shipping

Seaports can be divided into two groups. These are large deep-water seaports called base ports and minor auxiliary ports, often technically incapable of receiving the largest ships.

Base ports are capable of receiving the largest vessels and handling large cargo masses. Linear deep-sea shipping or transoceanic shipping, is conducted through base ports with the largest ships. Ships call only at selected major ports.

If ships were calling at every port, even if technically possible, they would waste too much time in and out of ports on their way to the last port on their route. Secondly, with a smaller number of ports, it is easier to arrange the cargo on the ship so that when arriving at a given port, there is no need to move cargo up and down because some cargo is under the others. Finally, the number of loading and unloading combinations is limited to a few ports.

The cargo that has been unloaded at the base port of destination can be transferred to a train or truck or to another ship that will sail to one of the smaller ports. Shipping from the base port to the smaller port is called feeder shipping.

We distinguish between two technologies of cargo transshipment from ship to ship, the so-called transshipment. First, it is the direct transshipment from a larger vessel to a smaller vessel using lifting equipment on board one of these vessels. The ships approach each other, and cargoes are transshipped. This type of transshipment is carried out in many Asian ports. The second option is for transshipment from a transoceanic vessel to a feeder vessel indirectly via the quay. This transshipment will also be referred to as transshipment. Still, the cargo, after unloading from the ocean-going vessel, goes to storage alongside the quay. Only then, along with other cargo collected in the same place, is quickly transferred to a smaller vessel going to a smaller port.

When analyzing port statistics, we should pay attention to transshipment. If a given container quay handles a given volume of cargo does not mean that these cargoes are imported or taken out for export to and from a given country. These containers may only transit through this port. Feeder service can occur either strictly on the sea or inland waterways – canals and regulated rivers.

The third type of shipping is short-sea shipping. These are shipments carried out by sea within the same continent. Short sea shipping includes, for example, ferry shipping from the Baltic Sea to Great Britain.

Port foreland vs hinterland

The geographical catchment area of a seaport at the seaside is the port foreland. The foreland of large base ports will be the entire world. The foreland of a smaller auxiliary port serving only feeder or short-sea shipping will be only a given continent or even only a small region on a given continent.

The geographical catchment area of a seaport at the landside is the port hinterland. When we talk about transport in the hinterland, we talk about the entire hinterland supply chain. This concept should not be confused with the internal logistics of the port area. And again, the hinterland of a large base port is usually a very large area of a given continent, and a feeder port is a small region around this port. If two seaports compete for shippers from the same area, we talk about the port’s disputed hinterland.

Photo by Albin Berlin