Bulk Cargo

Bulk Cargo: The Ultimate FAQ Guide

Before shipping bulk cargo, read this guide.

It has all the useful information you need to know about bulk cargo.

Let’s dive right in.

What is Bulk Cargo?

Bulk cargo shipping

Bulk Cargo Shipping

Bulk cargo is effective when your shipment is large and cannot fit in a container or package.

In such a case, the shipment is loaded onto the holding vessel the way it is.

Bulk cargo, therefore, refers to shipments that are loaded directly to the vessel without being packaged.

They are shipped loosely without packing, and the carrier charges them based on volume and mass.

What is the Difference Between General Cargo and Bulk Cargo?

Whether you are shipping a bulk cargo or general cargo, the process is pretty the same.

The difference arises when handling and charging for the shipments.

While general cargo is shipped in defined loads, Bulk cargo is loose and shipped in any quantity as it is.

General cargo is grouped into three categories depending on the packing units used.

Containerized- this is a standard shipping method where the cargo being shipped is loaded on designated shipping container units.

Break-bulk- the term is used to refer to general cargo shipped while in bags, pallets, and boxes.

Neo bulk This category of general cargo might confuse you with Bulk cargo.

However, there is a difference because the units are pre-packaged.

Examples include vehicles and paper rolls.

How does Bulk Shipping Work?

Bulk shipping involves three core steps: loading, unloading, and storage.

When you are importing, you will require a customs broker to handle the documentation process both at the origin and destination ports.

After booking a slot with your carrier, the next step involves delivering your shipment to the loading yard.

Specialists do the loading of Bulk shipment, and your shipping incoterm will define who is responsible for paying the charges.

Storage can be either at the exporting country before the scheduled departure or at the importing country after offloading.

Storage is essential as it helps you plan your business activities.

Offloading involves getting the shipment out of the vessel.

It should be done by specialists to prevent damages to the shipment.

Hiring different specialists’ services to handle loading, offloading, and storage of Bulk cargo is essential.

It helps you save time and achieve efficiency in your business.

How is Bulk Cargo Loaded onto Ships?

The compartment of the ship is first cleaned to ensure no traces of previous cargo.

Loading is done by either the dockside cranes or the ship’s gear.

For loading, cargo is first brought to the quay.

Next, the larger-sized solid cargoes are lifted individually on to the ship.

Small-sized Bulk cargo can be loaded onto trays before being loaded on board.

Each loaded Bulk cargo is stowed separately to prevent toppling over when the ship is in transit.

What does Break Bulk Cargo mean?

The term break Bulk cargo goes back to the 1960s before the emergence of containers.

It refers to large and oddly shaped goods that can’t fit into a standard shipping container or cargo bin.

Due to their abnormal shape and size, breakbulk cargo is shipped separately as they are without packing.

These goods are sent using general cargo ships and are loaded in boxes, bags, or barrels.

What are the Major Bulk Cargoes?

Major bulk cargoes include:

  • Grain
  • Oil
  • Coal
  • Gravel
  • Hydrocarbon products such as LPG and LNG
  • Freshwater
  • Wine
  • molasses

Is Unpacked Cargo the same as Bulk Cargo?


Unpacked cargo and Bulk cargo both refer to shipments that are transported as they are, without containers.

However, Bulk cargo has higher volumes and mass than unpacked cargo that can include pre-packaged products that do not require containers for shipping.

What are the Two Types of Bulk Cargo?

Bulk cargoes are shipped in large quantities and grouped into two categories depending on the content matter.

There is dry Bulk cargo and liquid Bulk cargo.

 Liquid bulk cargo vs dry bulk cargo

Liquid Bulk cargo vs. dry Bulk cargo

  • Dry Bulk cargo – they are solid and are shipped using a Bulk carrier. Examples of Dry Bulk cargo include iron ore, coal, grain, gravel, timber, etc.
  • Liquid Bulk cargo – they are in liquid or gaseous form. These are loaded and unloaded using pumps and pipelines and are shipped in tankers or deposits.

Examples of liquid Bulk cargo include, petroleum, gasoline, natural gas, wine, liquid chemicals, juice, etc.

What is a Bulk Ship?

A Bulk ship is a sea vessel with the capacity to transport bulk cargoes.

The ship is modified to have waterproof cargo compartments.

These ships are designed to transport different types of Bulk cargo.

They have a wide mouth for loading and unloading and are designed to withhold high pressure exerted by the heavy-loaded cargoes.

What Kind of Bulk Carriers are there?

Bulk carriers constitute more than 20% of the global merchant fleet.

They are classified in terms of their sizes and the regions they operate.

They include:

  • Panamax-The name originates from their location area, Panama. The Panamax are limited by the Panama Canal lock chambers and cannot exceed a beam of 32.31 m, a length of 294.13m, and a draft of 12.04m
  • CapeSize – CapeSize are larger ships than the Panamax and operate between the pacific and the Atlantic Ocean. They specialize in shipping coal and iron ore.
  • Handles – these ships are available in two types, namely, HandySize and HandyMax.

The ships are the most commonly used to ship Bulk cargo as they serve general purpose shipping.

Also, they have the highest rate of growth representing over 71% of bulk carriers.

Their sizes range from 150-200m in length and have five cargo holds with four cranes

What is the Difference Between a Bulk Carrier and a Tanker?

Both bulk carriers and tankers are used to ship bulk cargoes.

However, Bulk carriers mostly focus on solid shipments and tankers on liquid cargoes.

Bulk Carriers

Bulk carrier

 Bulk Carrier

Bulk carriers, as the name suggests, carry majorly dry products in large quantities.

The commodities range from raw materials to finished ones.

They are made with a single or double hull and can either have cargo gear or lack.

Their cargo hold is strong and wide open to allow cargo grabs and bulldozers to collect cargo in the holds.

Bulk carriers have pontoons covering the cargo hold and vary in shapes, size and purpose depending on the manufacturer.

Anybody can enter the cargo hold of a bulk carrier without permission.

Also, cleaning the cargo hold is easy because of the enormous space and easy accessibility.




Tankers specialize in carrying liquid bulk cargoes.

These ships can be used to ship crude oil, flammable gases, and liquid chemicals.

They can also be used to import wine and juices.

The size and number of cargo tanks in each ship vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and the carrier’s preference.

Larger tankers are majorly used to carry crude oil, while the smaller tankers deliver products to the bigger vessels.

Tankers are fitted with bulkheads that reduce racking and prevent fire and flooding.

In terms of structural appearance, tankers have a small opening to their cargo hold and are fitted with one or two ship cranes.

You must seek permission to gain entry into the tank’s cargo hold due to the risks involved.

Also, cleaning the cargo hold is practically difficult compared to bulk carriers.

How much does Bulk Shipping Cost?

Knowing the Bulk shipping cost will help you, especially when you are planning your budgets and choosing to import.

The freight cost for bulk cargoes is calculated in dollars per tonne of the shipment.

However, the rates are not fixed but controlled by several factors like the shipping season and the carrier.

The Bulk shipping costs averagely ranges between $2,000 and $3,000 for an FCL shipment.

If you opt for LCL shipment, the cost may be lower.

What are the Factors that Affect Bulk Shipping Prices?

As mentioned above, the cost of shipping Bulk cargo varies with several factors.

For example, carrier choice dramatically affects the prices, with some carriers charging higher than standard industry rates.

The main factors that affect the bulk shipping prices include:

Shipping Distance

Usually, the transportation prices are always proportional to the distance covered in many modes of transport.

But when it comes to Bulk shipping, the rates per mile covered usually do not increase.

Instead, different considerations are always put in place to determine the price per mile.

Depending on the transportation mode, prices are often determined by charges relating to line-haul and terminal costs.

Freight Class

Carriers usually charge their shipping prices depending on the type of Bulk goods you ship.

If your cargoes require precision during shipping, are valuable or precious, the costs will be high.

Size and Weight

Like standard cargoes, the shipment’s size and gross weight have a higher impact on the shipping prices.

As such, you must provide accurate details about your shipment’s weight and size.

Dimensional Weight

The space your cargo occupies in the shipping vessel plays a vital role in determining the prices you pay.

Bulk cargoes that are light but still occupy a lot of space because of their dimensional weight will always attract higher shipping fees.

What Documents are required for Bulk Cargo Shipping?

Documentation is an essential aspect of shipping that every shipper and importer must have in mind.

Shippers must have the right freight forwarding documents to ensure smooth and fast shipping.

Note that Bulk cargo, just like other cargoes; require nearly the same kinds of documents that include:

Commercial Invoice

The commercial invoice is a detailed document that provides information about the export/import transaction.

Certificate of Origin

Depending on your shipment destination, you should provide a certificate of origin that indicates where cargo is exported from.

Bill of Lading

Figure 5

The three bills of lading are vital in ensuring the smooth shipping of your Bulk cargo.

The Bill of lading provides information about your Bulk cargo, where it is shipped from, and the destination.

Hazardous/Dangerous Goods Documentation

If your Bulk cargo is considered HAZMAT, such as gasoline, you must provide dangerous goods documentation.

This shows how the cargo is to be handled to ensure safety during shipping.

It is important to seek clarification from your shipper or freight forwarder on other documents that may be required to enable smooth shipping.

Can you Ship Bulk Cargo by Air?

The answer is yes, though with certain limitations.

Although air transport can be expensive in terms of costs, it is beneficial when you need your goods delivered in time.

The maximum weight a cargo plane can lift varies from one plane to another, with the highest ever recorded being 187.6 tonnes.

This means that the weight of your cargo matters in air freight.

Additionally, the dimension of your cargo should meet the scheduled plane limit.

Therefore, you can ship Bulk freight by air but up to a specific limit.

If your cargo doesn’t meet your carrier requirement, you can opt for break Bulk shipping.

Do you need Insurance for Bulk Cargo?

Shipping of goods from one country to the other involves a lot of eventualities.

To reduce losses when such eventualities occur, you need goods insurance.

When losses occur, even if your shipper is liable, they usually pay a maximum of $500 per customary shipping unit.

This compensation is less as compared to the value of significant bulk cargos.

Though marine cargo insurance is not a mandatory requirement for Bulk shipping, it can be advantageous.

It ensures you get compensated in the event of damage or loss of Bulk cargo during shipping.

Are there Special Clearance Procedures for Bulk Cargo?

Bulk cargo requires proper handling, and to make the whole process as swift as possible, you should provide all necessary documents.

The Bulk Cargo clearance procedure is the same when the Bulk cargo does not require inspection before being released.

For goods that contain hazardous chemicals and explosives, the clearance procedure differs.

In this case, goods must undergo inspection to prove their safety before being allowed to ship.

How Long does it Take for Bulk Cargo to Clear through Customs?

Clearing through customs can be hectic depending on many factors.

There is no guaranteed fixed time that every shipment takes to clear through customs.

The following factors determine how long it will take your Bulk cargo to clear through customs:

  • The importation country
  • nature and type of the Bulk goods
  • Presence of a customs bond
  • The port of importation
  • Mode of transport used (air or sea)

However, if all your shipping and import paperwork is in order, customs clearance should only take a few hours to complete.

What Duty do you have to Pay for Bulk Cargo?

Duty refers to the government-imposed taxes that are charged on imported goods.

Depending on your importing country, Bulk cargo, like all other cargo, attract:

  • Basic duty
  • Additional Customs duty
  • Anti-dumping duties
  • True countervailing duty

However, when you are shipping from a Free Trade Area, your Bulk cargo can be duty-free.

How is the Tariff for Bulk Cargo Calculated?

When in the international business, when you import goods, you must pay tariffs before being allowed to pick your goods.

Therefore, it is essential to understand how import/export tariffs are calculated on your Bulk cargo for easy budgeting.

The following procedure is commonly used:

Currency Conversion

Start by converting all the currencies into your local currency (The currencies, in this case, include the value of the goods and freight charges). Add all the costs together.

Add any other costs associated with delivering the product to your warehouse.

Calculate Tariffs

After converting foreign currencies to the importation country’s currency, the next step is understanding the rates applicable in that particular country.

The next step is knowing your shipping terms.

If you are shipping through Free Onboard (FOB), your tariffs will be a ratio of the value of goods imported.

For Cost, Insurance, and Freight (CIF), the tariffs are charged on the cost of products, transportation costs, and insurance costs if available.

Certain countries have a compulsory charge value that is added to the computed rate.

It would be best if you liaised with your freight forwarder to be on the safer side.

Is Intermodal Shipping Possible for Bulk Cargo?

Intermodal transportation involves using more than one transportation method before receiving your goods.

It can involve the use of trucks, ships, aircraft, and then trucks.

Due to the many handling and changing of your goods, intermodal shipping is practical when you use a container.

Your goods should be less than 25 tons.

Though convenient and cheap, intermodal shipping is impractical for Bulk cargo.

Your Bulk cargo has a wider volume and weight, and using containers and trucks is impossible.

What are the Risk Factors for Transporting Bulk Cargo?

Solid bulk cargoes involve many risks, which must be managed carefully to safeguard the ship and the crew.

The risks range from fire to explosions due to flammable substances onboard.

Other risks that may be experienced include shipping vessel instability due to cargo weight and volume.

Capsizing is also possible for the same reason.

Ships can also get damaged when shipping Bulk cargo.

IMO (international maritime organization) provides numerous guidelines for safe shipping for Bulk cargo.

You can visit their website under the following publications and resources for more information about this.

For liquid Bulk cargo:

  • Tank cleaning guides
  • International Code for the construction and equipment of ships carrying dangerous chemicals in Bulk

For dry Bulk cargo:

  • FEDIOL Code of Practice
  • FOSFA documentation and CODEX standards
  • The code of practice for the Storage and Transport of Edible Fats and Oils in Bulk

How do you Determine the Weight and Volume of Bulk Cargo?

Cargo weight and volume are essential when costing your cargo’s shipping price and knowing how it is done.

Carriers use the highest between the volume and weight of your cargo in determining the shipping cost.

The weight of Bulk cargo is the actual weight of the goods.

This is determined by weighing the shipment.

Volume, on the other hand, is the total space your shipment will occupy in the vessel.

And usually, large items with a lighter weight are charged based on the shipping space they occupy, which is volume.

The formula for calculating Bulk cargo CBM is as follows:

(Length X Width X Height) cm / 5000 = Volumetric Weight in kilograms.

  • First, you multiply the shipment’s length by width and height in centimeters.
  • Then, divide the result by 5000 to get the volume weight in kilograms.

When determining the shipping, carriers compare the actual weight of cargo vs. the volumetric weight.

Whichever is higher is used to charge the freight cost.

You can also try using online CBM calculators to determine the weight and volume of your Bulk cargo.

These calculators are resources when trying to average your freight costs.

They are also fast, efficient, and easy to use.

 Online CBM calculator

 Online CBM calculator

Do you need a Freight Forwarder when Shipping Bulk Cargo?

Yes, it would help if you had a freight forwarder for your bulky goods to help you get a carrier and hasten the shipping process.

The process of importation is overwhelming, and sometimes so many risks are involved.

To make things easier, start by finding a capable freight forwarding agent who can meet your shipping requirements.

You have to arrange for delivery to the port where you find a suitable carrier with low transportation charges and faster delivery.

It doesn’t stop there; you must handle processing documents at the delivery port and arrange transportation of the goods to your desired warehouse.

All this is a headache, and before you know it, you receive a call that informs you of customs putting a hold on your goods, or you have made a mistake and you are fined.

Having someone who can save your business and help swiftly deliver your goods is life-saving.

That person is a reliable ad trustworthy freight forwarder.

How do you Choose a Reliable Freight Forwarder for Bulk Cargo?

A freight forwarder forms a closer linkage between sellers, carriers, and even you.

The following checklists should provide you with a perfect freight forwarder who suits your needs:

  • Uses of latest technology-With the right freight forwarder, you should be able to track your bulk shipment from the supplier until they reach you.
  • Presence in many countries– Your shipment can dock in many ports before reaching you. A good freight forwarder should have outlets in as many countries as possible.
  • A perfect mastery of shipping logistics– the right freight forwarder should portray professionalism in what they do. They should understand all the laws of the countries along the path of your shipment.
  • Should have customer service as a number one priority– you are the boss, and your needs require addressing whenever they arise. The freight forwarder must work to fulfill your shipment at the appropriate time and cost.

Getting a perfect freight forwarder to handle your Bulk cargo is close to impossible.

Lucky for you, you are in the right place.

At Bansar, we put our customers’ satisfaction first and ensure you receive your goods as early as possible.

We have a good reputation with many shipping companies and airline companies guaranteeing your Bulk cargo a carrier at any time of the season.

Our team of professionals is online 24/7 to help steer your business to the next level.

Reach out today for your Bulk Cargo shipment!

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