What is a Bulk Carrier?
A Bulker or Bulk Carrier is a ship designed to transport cargo such as grains, iron ore, and coal in large quantities. The number of bulk carriers has increased over the years since its inception in 1852. The amount of sophistication in the design of bulk carriers has also increased and so has safety considerations.
There are many types of the ship including the bulk carriers. Types of bulk carriers also vary depending on the type of cargo they transport. Typically, bulk carriers have a single deck and topside tanks to deliver dry cargo through international waters. Classification societies are looser with their definition of bulk carriers as they term them as any ship that carries dry unpackaged goods.
Other bulk carriers include multipurpose cargo ships that can carry different types of cargo and are not limited to bulk cargo. The term ‘dry bulk carrier’ is often used to differentiate between liquid cargo carriers of oil and chemicals from dry cargo carriers. General cargo ships are similar to small bulk carriers.
Types of Bulk Carriers
Classification by Size
The bulk carriers usually fall into six categories. This classification includes small, handymax, handysize, panama, capesize, and very large bulk carriers.
Very Large Bulk Carriers (VLBC)
The very large bulk carriers are often interchangeably used with capsize bulk carriers which are also one of the bulk carrier ships in the world.
Capesize Bulk Carriers
Capesize bulk carriers are a special type of ship as they carry specialized cargo usually iron ore or coal. The Capesize ships are too large to pass through the Panama Canal and were large enough to avoid the Suez Canal until the canal was upgraded, allowing these carriers to traverse the Mediterranean waters.
Panama Bulk Carriers
The Panamax or Panama Bulk Carrier ships are the ones that can traverse the Panama Canal. The Panamax adheres to the dimensions issued by the Panama Canal Authority based on the locks of the canal. These carriers are quite popular as it shortens the distances between the Pacific and the Atlantic.
Handymax and Handysize Bulk Carriers
Handymax and Handysize ships denote general-purpose ships as favorable regulations make this type of bulk carriers a large part of the international maritime fleet. Handymax carriers usually range from 150 to 200 meters in length and have four cranes with five cargo holds.
Classification by Region
Types of bulk carriers can also be distinguished from one another by labels given due to regional trade. For example, ‘Kamsarmax’ ships suitable for berthing at the port of Kamsar in New guinea have a maximum length of 229 meters. These ships are larger than the Panamax. Other types include Malaccamax, Seawaymax, Newcastlemax, and Dunkirkmax to name a few.
Generally, bulk carriers can be differentiated into these categories:
Geared Bulk Carriers
Geared bulk carriers have onboard equipment such as derricks and cranes to offload the cargo without needing offshore equipment. They usually fall under the handymax or handysize categories, but some Panamax bulk carriers also possess the cargo handling equipment.
Combined Bulk Carriers
Combined carriers are used to transport a mixture of liquid and dry cargos. Tanks and cargo holds are used to separate the two types of materials if transported simultaneously.
Gearless Bulk Carriers
Gearless carriers are less costly as they avoid maintenance and installation costs of cranes. These types of bulk carriers exist in all sizes, but the larger ones can only dock at a few ports.
Self-dischargers employ conveyor belts to unload their bulk cargo to offshore storage facilities.
BIBO classification of ships is usually referred to as Bulkin, due to their ability to bag the cargo as it gets unloaded off the ship.
Worldwide Shipping Fleets
The number of ships traversing the maritime waters globally is increasing day by day. The reliance on international trade on maritime transport has seen it grow exponentially. Billions of tons of cargo are handled through ships on an annual basis. The world fleet is dominated by countries such as Greece, Japan, and China who account for 53% of the world’s fleet.
The continent of Asia also excels in the building of bulk carriers with Japan leading the way with a whopping 62% of all the bulk carriers built here. Successful firms or shipyards include that of Oshima Sanoyas shipbuilding yards. Shipbreaking is also an important endeavor it removes the old ships from circulation. It is a cumbersome process and requires a lot of manpower.
Loading and Unloading
Perhaps the biggest function of the bulk carriers is related to the loading and unloading of cargo from the vessels. The process is a time-consuming one and needs special attention from both onboard and offshore staff. The process requires a lot of planning and the roles to be clearly defined. The captain of the ship agrees with the plan of action with the terminal master.
The process of loading and unloading the cargo depends on the type of bulk carrier, the amount of cargo, and the machinery available. Most modern ports are equipped with state-of-the-art machinery to assist bulk carriers to unload their cargo. However, some old ports which lack such machinery employ traditional means to unload the cargo.
Two popular modes of loading/unloading the cargo is through conveyor belts and cranes. Both these methods require less manpower and can handle cargo at a much higher pace. The typical rate of cargo handling by these two methods fall in the range of 500 to 1000 tons per hour.
After the cargo has been completely offloaded to the offshore storage, the crew has to clean the cargo holds. The nature of transported cargo determines the difficulty of this activity. For example, some materials may have irritating qualities or be corrosive.
Operations and Crew Requirements
The crew requirements of most bulk carriers range between 20 to 30 members however the smaller bulk carriers could be handled by as low as 8 members. The crew members required for the upkeep, maintenance, and safety of the bulk carrier include the captain, technical staff, deck officers, and steward’s department.
Finding a job to become a part of bulk carriers and especially Panamax carriers is easier than it was ever before. Nauticsjobs.com is a dedicated online platform that caters to the international maritime industry. You can easily browse bulk carrier jobs and find the most suitable one for yourself here.