Many Carefully to Carry articles have mentioned, and given advice, on the
stowage of different commodities which could loosely be described as breakbulk
cargo. However, no article has yet dealt generally with the subject of stowage
of breakbulk cargo.
In recent years there appears to have been a general decline of standards in
the stowage of breakbulk cargo resulting in cargo damage and claims.
The committee considers there are various reasons for the decline of
The ideal ship to use for the stowage of breakbulk cargo, is a ship fitted
with tween decks. This type of ship is designed for the carriage of breakbulk
cargo. The many compartments facilitate the carriage of different commodities
and make port rotation easier, usually avoiding overstows. Provided care is
taken over the stowage, cargo damage, especially crushing damage, should be
avoided. Unfortunately, tween deck ships are in short supply and cannot compete
economically with the medium sized bulk carrier. Medium sized bulk carriers have
therefore replaced, or are replacing, tween deck ships on trades that have not
been containerised or where, because of the type of cargo, it is impossible to
The bulk carrier's two main disadvantages, as compared with the tween deck
ship, are the height of holds (about twelve meters as compared with six meters for the lower hold of a tween decker), and the sloping lower wing ballast tanks.
As most breakbulk cargo is stowed by the use of fork lift trucks, the sloping
lower wing ballast tanks prevent the fork lift trucks maneuvering close to the
side of the holds, making stowage difficult.
The height of the holds also prevents stowage from the tank top to the deck
head using fork lift trucks. These problems are usually overcome by loading the
cargo in horizontal tiers on top of which are placed steel plates on which fork
lift trucks can maneuver to load the next tier. It can readily be seen that
crushing damage may occur, not just because of the height of the stow, but due
to the use of the steel plates and fork lifts.
It is apparent that it is of paramount importance to use proper and adequate
dunnaging materials during the stowage of breakbulk cargo, and this is
especially true in the case of bulk carriers.
Timber and timber products such as plywood, are still the main type of
dunnage materials in use, even though timber products have risen in price over
the past few years. Other cheaper materials are sometimes used as a substitute,
but are generally found to be inadequate. Because of the price of timber,
charterers, or whoever is paying for the dunnage, are often reluctant to provide
dunnage which is adequate both in quality and quantity.
Dunnage is used for the following reasons:
Dunnage is an absolute necessity for proper stowage of breakbulk cargo and,
when cargo damage occurs, the failure to use adequate or good quality dunnage
may result in allegations of bad stowage by cargo interests and liability for
cargo claims being difficult to refute. Because of the difficulties in the
stowage of breakbulk cargo in bulk carriers, proper and adequate use of dunnage
is vital and although cost is a consideration, this is usually minor in
proportion to potential claims.
When timber dunnage is supplied, the Master and the ships' officers should
check that the timber is properly seasoned. Green or “wet” timber contains up to
35% of water. Shrinkage of green timber results in the loosening of nails and
could mean that any blocking or bracing structure collapses. Timber should also
be without dry rot, without infestation, without splits (split timbers cannot be
fastened properly and lack strength) and of adequate scantling. Poor quality
timber should be rejected and, as the ships' officers will probably have to sign
for the timber supplied, they should check that the amount supplied corresponds
to the receipt they sign.
One of the main causes of damage to breakbulk cargo is inadequate
packing. Pallets, boxes, crates and other forms of packing are usually
designed for a single transit. During the course of this transit the
‘unit’ must survive initial storage, loading on to a road or rail vehicle,
transit to a port, handling at the port into temporary storage, loading on
to the ship and stowage, static and dynamic forces related to the ocean
passage, breaking out of stow and unloading, handling into temporary
storage, handling on to road or rail vehicle, transit to the receiver's
premises and handling at the receiver's premises. There are probably a
minimum of ten handling operations involved with every transit but, by far
the most arduous, is the sea voyage. It is therefore very important that
packaging is taken into account when planning the stowage of breakbulk
cargo, particularly, when a stow could be as high as twelve meters on a
bulk carrier. Packaging should be inspected prior to loading and if
inadequate, the cargo should either be rejected or the bills of lading
properly claused in regard to the inadequacy of the packing. It is
difficult to generalise on what should be considered as inadequate
packing, however, listed below are some examples:
It should be realised that if the packing is inadequate and considered
incapable of withstanding the rigors of an ocean voyage, good stowage may not
prevent the cargo from sustaining damage. Furthermore, inadequate or weak
packing can undermine the stability of a stow and in extreme cases, lead to its
eventual collapse. Without proper supervision during loading, inadequate or weak
packing is very often only discovered at the discharge port when the cargo is unloaded
in a damaged condition. It is difficult to determine at the discharge
port or ports, whether the cargo was damaged due to bad stowage or as a result
of inadequate packing. Cargo claims will eventually be directed to the ship
owner and may prove costly and impossible to defend.
Again, it should be pointed out that it is far more difficult to cater for
stowage of cargo with weak or inadequate packing on a bulk carrier as compared
to ships with tween decks. On a tween deck ship, top stowage either in the lower
hold or tween deck can be arranged for suspect or weak packing. However, top
stowage on a bulk carrier is far more limited, especially when there are many
loading or discharge ports.
Even if packing is adequate, it is only designed to withstand certain
pressures and usually, these pressures are determined for static conditions.
Packing crates and cases of medium size should be able to withstand the
superincumbent load of five similar items stowed above. Properly designed
palletised units of I,500kg should be capable of supporting a 6,000kg load under
static conditions, which would result in a five tier pallet stow of about six meters
in height. Steel drums are designed to survive under a static load of
three meters height of units of the same weight. Clearly, proper stowage of
these types of commodities can be arranged on a tween deck ship, but the problem
is far more difficult on a bulk carrier even if vast amounts of dunnage are used
to spread the loads evenly.
Various international and national organisations such as the IMDG Code,
British Standard, USA Packing Standard and the German Industry Standard (DIN),
stipulate strength and construction of packing. For example under German
Standard (DIN) cases have to withstand a static vertical al pressure of 1.0 mt/m
squared during sea transit. Ships' officers cannot be expected to test packaging
to see if it complies with these standards, but they should be aware that
standards do exist and that shippers are under an obligation to comply with the
rules and regulations of national and international organisations. Also,
packaging has to be properly marked especially if there are special requirements
for lifting or stowage. Wordings or marks on the packages such as:
should all be complied with. If it is impossible to comply with the
instructions on the package especially in regard to stowage then that particular
package or parcel of cargo should not be loaded.
Before the containerisation revolution, most ships' deck officers were
properly trained during their career in the skills of loading and the proper
stowage of breakbulk cargo. These skills were mainly obtained through practical
experience, but some tuition was given in shore based colleges and institutions.
Gradually these skills have been lost with older deck officers and masters
retiring or taking shore employment. The result is that a Master or Chief
Officer on a medium sized bulk carrier may have never seen a general cargo
loaded or stowed, and he also may have not received any tuition or training in a
shore based establishment. If a bulk carrier is chartered to load general cargo,
the Master and Chief Officer will probably rely on the charterer's super cargo,
if any, to advise on stowage or on the stevedores' expertise. The result may be
a series of expensive cargo claims.
The committee recommends that when owners know that their Masters and Deck
Officers do not have the necessary expertise available to properly load and
stow general cargo, particularly on bulk carriers, then expert advice should be
obtained. Club correspondents have the local knowledge to advise members on
experts and surveyors in their areas. Even if the Master and Deck Officers have
some skills in the loading of breakbulk cargoes, expert advice should be sought
if it is thought that the packaging of any commodity is inadequate.
CAREFULLY TO CARRY is published by Jaminco Import Export Co. Ltd as free
advice for everyone involved in the movement of breakbulk cargo including
Freight Forwarders, Insurance & Assurance Companies
Editor: Louis Lawrence