Britannia Club: Navigating Break Bulk Cargo Challenges


  • The Britannia Club has experienced several incidents involving damage to break bulk cargo. These damage claims primarily fall into two categories.
  • There have been several incidents where vehicles and heavy project cargoes have been stowed on top of bagged cargo which does not always provide a firm enough base for safely stowing or securing the heavier cargo on top.

According to Britannia Club, in recent times, the maritime industry has encountered numerous incidents related to damage of break bulk cargo during transportation.

Damage claims

These damage claims primarily fall into two categories:

  • The first is inadequate loading, stowage and securing of break bulk cargoes which has resulted in cargo damage due to cargo shifting and stow collapsing. Additionally, it can cause stability problems for the ship.
  • The second is when vehicles are incorrectly stowed, lashed and carried as non-dangerous cargo – for more detailed advice please see our guidance on the carriage of vehicles in bulk carriers/general cargo ships.

All ships carrying any type of cargo, except solid and liquid bulk cargoes, must have a Cargo Securing Manual (CSM) approved by the flag administration. The CSM must outline all lashing and securing arrangements, and devices onboard the ship, detailing their correct application and the recommended methods for securing of cargo.

As informed, shipowners must ensure that they load, stow, and secure all non-bulk cargo in accordance with the ship’s approved CSM. They must always consider the applicable recommendations of the “Code of Safe Practice for Cargo Stowage and Securing” (CSS Code), as well as the “International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code” (IMDG Code) for dangerous cargo in packaged form.

If a certain cargo is not covered or allowed to be loaded by the ship’s CSM, shipowners should consult the Classification Society to obtain approval and then amend the CSM accordingly. This may also necessitate altering the physical lashing arrangement and/or providing additional lashing equipment.

Contemporary break bulk and project cargo trading often includes specific requirements for stowing and securing cargo. When considering carrying such cargo on bulk carriers, it’s important to remember that these ships are generally not designed or equipped like general cargo or multi-purpose ships. Moreover, bulk carrier crews may lack experience in stowing and securing break bulk or project cargo, necessitating meticulous planning and supervision.

Break bulk and Project cargo

As a general definition, break bulk cargo refers to goods that are loaded individually onto a ship in individually counted units and are not contained within shipping containers. These goods are typically loaded into drums, bags, pallets, sacks, barrels, or crates. Examples of break bulk cargo include machinery parts, steel coils, bags of coffee, or crates of machinery.

Project cargo refers to large, heavy, or oversized items that require special handling and transportation due to their size, weight, or complexity. This type of cargo is often associated with large construction projects, infrastructure developments, or industrial projects. Examples of project cargo include wind turbine components, heavy machinery, oversized pipes, or equipment for oil and gas projects.

Project cargo could be of high value and requires customized transportation solutions and could involve coordination with multiple transportation modes, such as sea, road, and rail.

Improper stowage and securing

There have been several incidents where vehicles and heavy project cargoes have been stowed on top of bagged cargo which does not always provide a firm enough base for safely stowing or securing the heavier cargo on top.

In many instances, wheel-based cargoes are improperly secured to other cargo instead of being properly fastened to the ship as required by the ship’s CSM. Vehicles are frequently tied to unauthorised lashing points on bulkheads, tank tops, decks (including the main deck and hatch covers), and occasionally even to each other. Regular checks and tightening of lashings during transit are not always conducted, increasing the risk of cargo shifting in the stow and potential damage due to the failure of a single lashing or lashing point in the chain.

Insufficient dunnage, chocking, and shoring are often provided for vehicles, steel coils, and project cargo when they are stowed alongside bagged cargoes.

The crew should be aware of the following prior to carriage:

  • A list of the proposed cargo must be obtained from the shipper / charterer, including any stowage or lashing requirements, and restrictions (SOLAS, Chapter VI, Regulation 2 and CSS Code sub-chapter 1.9).
  • A risk assessment must be undertaken to assess the carriage considerations, cargo care, stowage, lashing requirements and any limitations.
  • Any ship, including bulk carriers, must carry a approved and current CSM if it transports break bulk or general cargo. This manual must adhere to a standard at least equivalent to the IMO guidelines and be suitable for all cargoes onboard. If necessary, the CSM should be revised and officially approved to ensure it encompasses the intended cargo for carriage.
  • Where applicable, the ship’s loading instrument should be capable of performing calculations for break bulk cargo and loading different grades of cargo in the same hold. It should be noted that a heavy break bulk cargo may generate a point load, which would not otherwise occur with a bulk commodity over a larger area.
  • Responsibilities for stowage and lashing should be clarified and agreed in the charterparty in line with the ship’s CSM, and appropriate instructions should be issued to the master.
  • Although other parties are typically involved to carry out the loading and lashing, it is ultimately the ship master’s responsibility to ensure that the cargo is safely handled, stowed and secured in accordance with the relevant regulations.
  • If required, a suitable port captain or preload independent cargo surveyor should be appointed to assist the master. The CSS Code highlights the need to utilise the appropriate specialist knowledge in order to comply with the requirements for the stowage and securing, taking into account the structural strength of the particular ship and the expected weather conditions during the intended voyage.
  • During the voyage, remember that if break bulk stowage is proposed on top of “jumbo bags” (properly known as FIBCs, for flexible intermediate bulk containers), it’s likely that the FIBCs will settle, making them an unstable base for securing additional cargo. FIBCs also have limited capability to withstand top loads.

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Source: Britannia P&I Club