Key Points:

  • Bulk shipping is the activity of transporting bulk cargo from one place to another in a large quantity that is loaded directly into a shipping vessel
  • Bulk shipping entails three steps: unloading, storage, and loading
  • The price of bulk shipping is generally calculated on four main factors, including shipment size and weight, and distance traveled

Every day, thousands of tons of bulk cargo gets moved across the world. Simple, everyday activities such as gassing up our cars, pouring milk in our cereal, or adding salt to our food might otherwise be difficult to do if it weren’t for carriers that transport things like cement, grain, ore, steel, and coal. Bulk cargo can be challenging to ship, but luckily, we have specially-built bulk carrier ships that are designed to carry these goods around the world.

These sophisticated vessels ensure durability, safety, efficiency, and capability and account for 21% of merchant fleets in the world. These massive ships, especially those used to carry mineral ores, can transport as much as 400,000 metric tons of deadweight. In this article, we break down exactly what bulk shipping is, how it works, and how it can help your business.

Table of Contents

What Are Bulk Shipments?

These are shipments that are loaded directly into the holds of the shipping vessel, without being packaged. Unlike other items that are shipped in individual packages or containers, bulk items are shipped loosely and unpackaged. Let’s make the distinction clearer: goods can be classified into unitary or general cargo and bulk cargo. Unitary goods are transported in packages or containers such as pallets, sacks, and TEU containers, and the total load is counted in units.

On the other hand, bulk cargo is shipped in huge quantities with no packing or packaging. As such, the means of transport itself acts as a container, and the cargo is quantified using volume or mass measurements. Therefore, bulk shipping is the activity of transporting bulk cargo from one place to another in a large quantity that is loaded directly into a shipping vessel.

How Does Bulk Shipping Work?

Whether you are importing or exporting bulk cargo, bulk shipping works pretty much the same way. Usually, it entails three essential steps: unloading, storage, and loading. When your imported bulk shipment arrives at its designated port, it is unloaded and transported to a bulk cargo storage facility at the port so that you can arrange for its collection and further transportation inland.

When you’re exporting, you store your bulk cargo at the port's storage facility to await transportation and loading into the shipping vessel. Storing your shipment at the port saves you the hassle of having to make a rushed, scheduled delivery by giving you plenty of time for the loading and departure of your cargo.

You will need to engage the services of specialist custom brokers to oversee the unloading, offloading, and storage of your cargo as these involve a lot of paperwork and regulations. You will also need to engage in unloading, offloading, and storage services from different companies at the port to help in handling and storing your bulk cargo as it awaits its departure. These companies help you save time and money by smoothing the tricky parts of bulk shipping.

What Goods Can I Send Through Bulk Shipping?

There are several types of goods that you can send through bulk shipping. These can be classified as solid bulk or liquid bulk.

Solid bulk goods

These are also known as dry bulk. Their stowage involves the use of conveyor belts, cranes, hoppers, or silos, and the materials can be dispatched from the factory, field, mine, or original location of the material. Solid bulk can include cargo such as grains (wheat, rice, barley, oats); minerals like bauxite, copper, and limestone; chemicals such as resins, pellets, plastic granules or fertilizers; and other items like salt and wood. These goods are shipped using bulk carriers in the form of large merchant vessels that are designed to carry solid bulk, consisting of a single running deck with several hatchways.

Liquid bulk goods

These are any type of free-flowing, liquid materials. Pumping stations and pipelines are used to load and unload these types of bulk products. Their shipment involves the use of specialized tanks or deposits designed to hold liquid materials. Chemicals such as liquid nitrogen, natural gas, petroleum, cooking oils, and refrigerated goods like milk or fruit juice are all examples of liquid bulk. Tankers used to handle bulk shipping for these materials are designed with double hulls to strengthen their structures. They are usually large vessels that can withstand over 400,000 tons of deadweight.

Don’t forget that if you’re shipping smaller, individual shipments of these types of goods - or even restricted or dangerous goods - bulk shipping may not be suitable for you. In this case, Easyship may be able to help. By accessing our range of over 250 courier solutions, you’re sure to find an affordable service that’s suitable for whatever type of good you’re trading. We can even help you figure out how to package liquid or fragile items that would not be suitable for bulk shipping.

How Much Does It Cost?

When it comes to shipping bulk cargo, freight rates are calculated in dollars per ton of cargo. Other shipowners charge per diem freight rates. Between June and September 2019, daily Capesize rates rose from $20,000 a day to around $48,000 for Capesizes with a capacity of about 180,000 deadweight tons (DWT).  Though several factors cause bulk shipping costs to fluctuate, Clarksons Platou Securities approximated Capsizes rates to be $18,350 per day as of November last year.

In the container market, costs are calculated in dollars per Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit (TEU). That means prices are expressed per TEU. For a full container load (FCL), most ships charge anywhere between $2,000 and $3,000. But for less than container loads (LCL), where more than one shipper shares a container, the cost may come down under that while shipping containers overseas.

4 Factors Affecting Bulk Shipping Prices

The price of bulk shipping is generally calculated on four main factors, including shipment size and weight, and distance traveled. However, as you can see from the previous section, prices can also fluctuate depending on different market conditions. The four main things that affect bulk shipping prices are:

  1. Size and weight: Combined, these are the two factors that most influence shipment costs. You will be required to provide accurate weight and measurements of your cargo, and every item being shipped will have a National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC) number depending on its weight and size.
  2. Freight class: This takes into account things like density, the value of the shipment, how susceptible your items are to damage, and the product’s loadability and handling characteristics.  Fragile and valuable products usually have higher freight classification, hence higher freight rates.
  3. Dimensional weight: This is a standard formula that considers the shipment's density to determine shipping costs. Transportation fees may be based on dimensional weight or gross weight, whichever is greater.  For example, items that do not weigh much but take up a lot of space will be charged by dimensional weight.
  4. Distance traveled: Although the distance traveled sometimes plays a role in influencing bulk shipping costs, rates don’t usually increase on a per-mile basis. Instead, a complicated formula is used to calculate rates taking into consideration groups of origins, destinations, and the type of shipment. Sometimes, per-mile freight rates decline with distance depending on line-haul costs and terminal costs for different transportation modes.

Ship Smarter With Bulk Shipments

The bulk shipping industry plays a crucial role in smoothly our lives by ensuring our access to different products and daily necessities. Bulk goods are classified as solid or liquid, and shipping costs are calculated by factoring in four things, including weight and freight class.

Bulk shipping can be very useful for industrial or agricultural items, but they’re not suitable for everyone; it probably wouldn’t work for most eCommerce merchants. If you fall into this category, Easyship can help you with smaller shipments of every kind. We can help you access over 250 cost-effective courier solutions to ship individual parcels while taking advantage of our full suite of tools such as automated labels and forms, branded tracking, and insurance.