From marine cargo to bulk cargo

The cargo ships market used for international trade, like any other product, its expressed through offer and demand. In this particular case, the offer is reflected at the capacity on ships available to transport different types of goods and the demand is reflected at the need that different goods be transported by sea.

The Demand or maritime trade

When speaking of international maritime freight traffic -see estimates by UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) data, we are talking about 9,842 million tons loaded with different kinds of products. That figure includes loads of 2,826 million tons of oil, petroleum products and gas; 3,112,000 t of the main bulk and 3,903,000 t of other dry (bulk and non-bulk) during 2014. The main bulk consists in coal, iron ore, grain, bauxite/alumina and phosphate rock among others. From the last two items, the dry cargo (the major and minor bulk commodities, plus general breakbulk cargo, plus more containerized trade) would have represented 71% of all transported in 2014.


However, in the case of bulk cargo, it could reach the amount of 4,659 million tons by 2015, which means about 47% of all international maritime freight traffic by 2015 (see Chart 1). Thus, a monthly article entitled “Dry Bulk Trade Outlook” Clarkson Research Services, estimated 3,177,000 t in major bulks (iron ore, grain, coal, bauxite/alumina and phosphate rock) and 1,482,000 t in secondary bulks. The last category includes products such as sugar, flour and pellets of oilseeds, rice, fertilizer, cement, anthracite, forest products, steel products, whose relative importance can be seen in Figure 2.


In agricultural products, it can be observed -see Figures 1 and 2- that transported grains added up to 414 million tons. If we add 160 million of other agricultural products, the figure of 574 million t represents a 12.3% of the total cargo bulk transport.

Moreover, Figure 1 shows the importance of iron ore and coal for the maritime bulk cargo. In the first of the products, China’s economic health is vital since that nation imports between the 68% and 70% of the total sea trade of iron. Moreover, Asia is essential for maritime coal trade since that region import 70% of the total.

The offer of bulkers ships

As stated in the statistical appendix of “The Platou Report 2015” report by RS Platou ASA Norway, it was estimated that the world merchant fleet reached 1631.8 million deadweight ton (dwt)2 by early 2015. From this amount, the transport of all bulk carriers reached 750.3 million tonnes (46% of the total fleet); ship tanks  added up to 478 400 000 (29%); chemical freighters 36.3 million tonnes (2%) and other vessels to 366,700,000 (22%).

It is possible to obtain the amount of bulk carrier’s fleet by the end of 2014, according to the classification by size, and some own characteristics:

a) Handysize: 87.8 million dwt (12% of all bulk carriers) in more than 3,100 boats. This fleet includes vessels that have a deadweight of 10,000 to 39,999 tons (dwt). There is a growing trend to use more this type of vessel but in the segment of those with the greatest gross tonnage, between 35,000 and 39,999 dwt, with an average length of 169.3 meters and 26.4 meters averaging sleeve.

b) Handymax: 160.8 million dwt (21% of all dwt bulk carriers) in more than 3,100 units too. This fleet includes ships ranging from 40,000 to 64,999 dwt (dwt). In this category there are “Supramax”, ranging from 50,000 to 59,999 dwt and whose average length is 191.3 meters and the average sleeve 32.3 m, and “Ultramax”, ranging from 60,000 to 64,999 dwt. Similar to what is seen in the Handysize, is the largest segment where there has been a growth of the fleet; this is the Supramax and Ultramax, especially in the latter.

c) Panamax: 204.5 million dwt (27% of all dwt bulk carriers), that is between 2,400 and 2,500 boats. In this fleet, there are those ships ranging from 65,000 to 99,999 dwt, for which it includes the post-Panamax and Panamax 60,000 to 64,999 dwt built before 2000. In this category there is also the “Kamsarmax”, whose bearing is 80,000 to 89,999 dwt and growing in the category..

d) Capesize: 295 million dwt (39% of all bulk carriers dwt) in more than 1,600 units. This category includes ships ranging from 100,000 to 320,000 dwt, although there are more than 15 million dwt ships of over 320,000 dwt.


1 Review of Maritime Transport 2015, UNCTAD.

2 This tonnage, known in English as -dwt- deadweight tons, equals to all the weight that a ship can load: cargo, fuel, supplies, crew, etc.

3 Dry Bulk Trade Outlook, December 2014, CRS.

Source: BCR

Integral solutions for international transport and logistics

Contact us