Everyone’s Breaking Into Breakbulk
Time was breakbulk, project cargo and multipurpose/heavylift were their own niche sector on the global shipping spectrum, but many of today’s carriers are taking it all, from MPV/HL to roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro) to go along with their regular old vanilla container hauling (not to suggest said containers are filled with vanilla, although they could be).
The “Big Three” carriers—MSC, CMA-CGM and Maersk—continue competing with one another by each entering the comparatively lucrative breakbulk and project cargo market, which has also drawn such ro/ro specialists as Grimaldi, NYK and MOL.
For its “global out-of-gauge and breakbulk services,” MSC advertises “first class project cargo management, no matter whether you have a requirement for heavy lift cargo, or for oversized cargo which cannot fit inside a standard container.” MSC can point to more than 40 years of experience in shipping oversized freight and their “expert project cargo logistics team” that can help with the planning and execution of special loadings.
Not to be outdone, the CMA CGM website states, “Our dedicated experts will take pride in providing you with our Special Cargo services and will find with you reliable shipping solutions, whether you’re shipping sensitive materials or heavy and bulky equipment but also will take extra care of Aid and Humanitarian cargo that often exceeds the size of standard containers.”
Size matters, of course, as CMA CGM can rely on the expertise of its 755 agencies in more than 160 countries all around the world as well as an extensive network of ports, terminal operators and suppliers. “Our teams can deliver a seamless door-to-door service and integrated one-stop-shop solutions for your Special Cargo anywhere in the world,” the promo boasts.
COSCO Shipping also relies on a large fleet and experience in extra-heavy hauling. This was demonstrated in February, when the sound section of the Maersk Honam was successfully loaded aboard COSCO’s heavy-lift vessel Xin Guang Hua on open waters outside Dubai. The 228.5-meter long item arrived in March at Hyundai Heavy Industries in South Korea.
Maersk has been accepting breakbulk as well, with company officials pointing to the opportunity to be able to carry an entire project as opposed to select components that fit neatly in traditional containers. The carrier does assess breakbulk or project cargo on a case by case, depending on available space and vessels, the length and width of the cargo and the terminals to be called.
“We’ll use special gear, extra labor, and oversee operations,” Karen Hicks, Maersk’s global client manager, told JOC.com in March. “There are no cut and dried solutions.” Her company is searching for more solutions with the creation of special project cargo teams and online booking tools, however.
Wallenius Wilhelmsen Ocean (WW Ocean) is occupying the space in between containers and lift-on/lift-off (lo/lo) or geared MPV/HL, stowing cargo under the deck of ro-ro ships where less packaging and handling is required. WW Ocean officials say they see growth potential in being able to handle a single piece of breakbulk cargo, multiple pieces or pieces and materials for large, multimillion-dollar projects handled over several voyages.
Customers should be warned that pricing can be tricky. As opposed to a standard container rate, carriers have to factor in trade lanes, weight and volume, cargo type, and any special equipment needed, such as mobile loading platforms (mafis) or jack-up trailers. Surcharges for bunkers, port costs, and other assessorial charges must also be factored in. And then there are the costs for securing different types of cargo along the trade routes.
The variety of elements to consider has not swayed Höegh Autoliners away from offering transportation for all types of breakbulk cargo, as the carrier handles close to 6 million cubic meters of high and heavy and breakbulk cargoes annually worldwide. For breakbulk, project and other “out-of-gauge” cargo, Höegh relies on modern and specialized rolltrailers, which are specially designed for smooth and safe transportation of heavy and/or long breakbulk cargo.
G2 Ocean is only two years old, so most would consider the carrier new to the breakbulk game. But company officials want you to know that they actually have 50 years of experience in the sector thanks to G2 Ocean being a joint venture of two of the world’s leading breakbulk and bulk-shipping companies: Gearbulk and Grieg Star.
“We operate the largest fleet of open hatch vessels worldwide,” proclaims the G2 Ocean website. “In addition we operate a substantial fleet of conventional bulk carriers. With 130 vessels and 13 offices on six continents, we can serve all our customer’s needs. Our vessels are tailor-made for breakbulk cargoes like forestry products, steel and project cargoes. Advanced systems make shipping with us easy. The passion and expertise of our people put our customers at ease. This is the basis for reliable, efficient, flexible, high-quality and innovative services.”
However, you do not have to be a large, global conglomerate carrier concern to specialize in breakbulk and project cargo. On the other end of the roster is Florida Barge Corp. (FBC), whose 150- to 400-foot long tubs were engineered and constructed to transport heavy and concentrated cargo loads.
Routinely operating in the waters of the U.S. East Coast, the Gulf Coast, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America, FBC offers project cargo, heavy-lift, and module transportation services—at rates that are less or at least competitive with the big boys.
Founder Brendan Moran boasts more than 15 years of experience in the marine transportation and project cargo industry. “Whether your needs include loading and transport of bridge beams or dredge related equipment,” states Moran’s online bio, “FBC will provide all aspects of the movement from inception to completion.”
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