Break bulk may be defined as a particular kind of cargo that is placed inside individual small-sized containers stored in groups aboard a multi-purpose, break bulk or general cargo vessel. It can include commodities kept in bags, boxes, barrels, cartons, sacks, pallets or drums, stacked on decks or inside the holds of ships. It has come to be used in a widespread manner from the judicial phrase ‘breaking bulk’, which was prevalent in the 19th century and used for describing the act of segregating some containers from a break bulk and selling them later on. It was a punishable offence in some cases.
Break bulk vessels have been in existence for centuries, but not without some major problems. Even with modern equipment like forklifts & hydraulic hoists and storage facilities, these problems continue to persist because of the cargo’s nature. It is stored normally on pallets, which must first be loaded or stacked by hand. Earlier, the easily accessible cargo of break bulk led to theft of goods like machine parts, electronics and computers. Items such as cigarettes, jewellery and liquor were also vulnerable. The robberies often caused legal conflicts to take place among insurers, buyers, carriers and shippers. This is because the crew of the ship particularly the ‘bailees’ entrusted with safety of the cargo, were either held responsible for the robberies or assumed to be connected with the thefts in one way or the other.
Nowadays, there are several measures which have been adopted over the years to prevent theft of goods from break bulk. The first attempt towards loss aversion was made by US military, who started constructing secure containers for shipping. That led to development of huge intermodal containers, which are used in the modern times by companies offering break bulk shipping services. Besides that, many shipments of this cargo type are also transferred back and forth between container cargo and break bulk to reduce handling.
Technological advancements, including better tracking systems and proper cargo management has enabled people to ensure a high level of security for break bulk shipments. From the past, there has been a significant drop in theft of goods from this cargo. Moreover, usage of sophisticated and highly effective loading equipment also guarantees a great amount of safety.
Freight charges for shipment of break bulk cargo is generally worked out on basis of Revenue Ton or Freight Ton, which means the freight is charged either on weight (MT) or volume (CBM), whichever is greater.