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Often, we hear the term bulk shipping. Barely do we know its definition. Bulk shipping refers to the shipping of bulk commodities in a specialised manner. This article elaborates on the meaning of bulk shipping, types of bulk carriers and shipping rates.


What is bulk shipping and bulk carrier?

Bulk shipping means transporting goods in large quantities. These are unpackaged commodities which are transported worldwide through special ships known as bulk carriers. In simple terms, bulk carriers are a category of ships that carry bulk commodities.

Example of bulk commodities

According to the type of goods bulk commodities are divided into the following two categories:

Dry bulk

Examples of dry bulk commodities are:

Liquid bulk

Liquid bulk is also known as wet bulk. Examples of liquid bulk commodities include:

  • Crude oil
  • Petroleum products
  • Chemicals
  • Liquified natural gas (LNG), etc.

Features of bulk shipping

  • Unpackaged: Bulk goods loaded on the ship without any packaging. For example, oil is loaded through suitable pipes while grains are loaded with the help of a crane or other suitable material handling equipment.
  • Needs special material handling equipment: As bulk commodities are unpackaged, they need specialised material handling equipment. For example, steel coils are heavy and need appropriate cranes to carry and load them.
  • Needs special bulk carrying ships: Like specialised material handling, bulk goods also require suitable ships. For example, compressed natural gas (CNG) needs a suitable ship to store and transport it.

Bulk carrier ship types

Essentially there are two types of bulk carrier ships.

  • Dry bulk carriers known as bulkers
  • Liquid bulk carried known as tankers

According to their sizes, these bulk carries are divided into the following:

Classification of bulk carriers by size Size in deadweight
Small or Mini bulkers 500 – 10,000 dwt
Handysize 10,000 – 40,000 dwt
Handymax/Supramax/Ultramax 40,000 – 70,000 dwt
Panamax/New Panamax 70,000 – 100,000 dwt

Bulk shipping companies

Here is a list of the leading bulk shipping companies.

Bulk shipping rates

Bulk shipping rates are determined by several factors such as type of cargo, handling requirement, shipping routes, geopolitical conditions and so on. Here are some of the factors that affect bulk shipping rates.

Cargo type: Different kinds of bulk cargo (e.g., dry bulk, liquid bulk) have varying shipping rates. Rates are usually based on factors such as the density, volume, and handling requirements of the cargo.

Shipping route: In global trade, routes significantly affect the shipping rates. The distance and complexity of the shipping route can significantly impact rates. Longer routes or routes through challenging waters might result in higher rates.

Availability of a ship: Availability of the bulk carrying ships or bulk carriers on a particular route has a significant impact on the rates. If vessel availability is limited, rates might rise.

Fuel costs: Fluctuations in oil prices have a significant impact on goods transportation. Additionally, there are aspects such as fuel surcharges that impact the rate.

Size and type of the ship: Different types and sizes of bulk carriers have varying capacities and efficiencies. Some are equipped with sophisticated technologies too, which can affect shipping rates.

Market Demand: Fluctuations in global demand for commodities and materials can affect shipping rates. High demand often leads to increased rates, while low demand can lead to lower rates.


Seasonal fluctuations: Weather also has an impact on the flow of bulk goods and the availability of bulk carriers.  This too can impact shipping rates during specific times of the year.

Economic conditions: Factors such as economic conditions, changes in trade policies, etc., also affect shipping rates.

Geopolitical conditions and crises: Geopolitical conditions such as wars, conflict between two countries, and crises also influence shipping routes impacting shipping rates. For example, the global COVID crisis caused supply chain disruptions and accordingly affected shipping rates.

Compliances: Now that awareness about safety and the environment is increasing, many new regulations are introduced. Such environmental regulations, safety standards and other compliances have a direct impact on shipping rates.

What is bulk shipping management?

Now we know that since bulk shipping involves consideration of a lot of factors such as availability of ships and type of bulk commodity, bulk shipping management is a complicated task. Here are some aspects of shipping management.

  • Determining the most cost-effective and efficient shipping route
  • Choosing the suitable ship for the type of cargo being transported
  • Overseeing cargo loading and ensuring proper loading
  • Arranging and managing material handling equipment such as conveyor belts, cranes, etc.
  • Ensuring all safety compliances and environmental regulations are met
  • Managing paperwork and documentation for the export and import of bulk commodities


Bulk goods transportation between two countries involves a range of factors. Paperwork including documents required by customs, transit insurance, etc., loading and unloading, managing material handling equipment, ensuring safety norms and so many other aspects are involved in bulk goods transportation. Moreover, bulk shipping requires logistics expertise, industry knowledge and updated knowledge of regulation and compliances.

Swati Deshpande

Swati is a passionate content writer with more than 10 years of experience crafting content for the business and manufacturing sectors, and helping MSMEs (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) navigate complexities in steel procurement, and business services. Her clear and informative writing empowers MSMEs to make informed decisions and thrive in the competitive landscape.