Dry Bulk Shipping or Dry Container Shipping? Which One to Choose.

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Dry Bulk Shipping or Dry Container Shipping? Which One to Choose.

12/19/2023

Dry cargo shipping is one of the most common categories of shipping solutions and one of the most popular with MSC customers. Covering a wide range of commodities that vary from coal to non-perishable food and beverages, dry shipping can be a simple solution for customers looking to transport their cargo quickly and efficiently. Generally, these commodities can be transported as either a ‘dry bulk’ shipment or as a ‘container shipment’.


Dry bulk shipping refers mostly to the shipment of unpackaged goods that are destined to be used in the global manufacturing and production process. Examples of dry bulk commodities include grain, metal, and energy materials.


Unsurprisingly, a dry bulk carrier is a vessel designed to carry dry cargo in bulk. The cargo is generally stored in the vessel’s hold, with hatches built in to keep the cargo separated and protected. Unlike general cargo vessels used in container shipping, bulk carrier vessels usually transport the same cargo exclusively.

Due to the unpackaged nature of the goods being transported, dry bulk is measured in tons of deadweight (dwt). Some of the larger transportation vessels can carry megatons (MT) of deadweight.

Flour being loaded in MSC container for inland transportation
Things to consider with dry bulk shipping

Because of the impact that an in-transportation accident can have on the environment, dry bulk cargo transportation is highly regulated by the industry. As dry bulk cargo is loose, any spills during the voyage mean the cargo is more likely to go directly into the ocean. Not only does this make the cargo extremely difficult to clean up, but also puts both people and wildlife in danger.

Types of dry bulk commodities

Dry bulk commodities are usually divided into major and minor bulks. Examples of minor bulk commodities include steel products, sugars, and cement.

Major dry bulk commodities include properties like iron ore, coal, and grain, which account for nearly two-thirds of global dry bulk trade. Both coal and iron ore are two of the most traded dry bulk commodities in the world. Countries like India, China, and Japan are all heavily involved with the importing of coal for their primary energy and electricity needs. Similarly, grain is another major cargo that makes up seaborne dry bulk trade and accounts for a large proportion of the worldwide total dry bulk trade.

Characteristics of dry bulk cargo

Common characteristics of dry bulk cargo include:

• Uniform in composition or consistent material
• A combination of particles, granules, or other large pieces of material
• A wide range of cargo types excluding liquids and gases can be shipped as ‘dry bulk’
• Dry bulk cargo is loaded directly into cargo spaces free from packaging

What is the difference between bulk and container shipping?
There are several key differences between bulk and container shipping for dry goods. With dry bulk shipping, usually the entire vessel needs to be chartered due to the nature of the cargo. With container shipping, it is possible to secure enough space to ship the required volume for your cargo.

With bulk shipping, there are different types of chartering, so companies with frequent transportation requirements will often opt for long-term chartering solutions. As there are no dedicated vessels for individual bulk shipping commodities, the vessels must be cleaned with utmost care to prevent the contamination of cargo from one shipment to another.

There is also a difference when it comes to loading and unloading dry cargo. With container shipping, customers can take ownership of the container at their warehouse where they can fill it and arrange for the container to be picked up and delivered to the port for loading. Conversely, with bulk shipping, loading happens directly in the port where the commodity is loaded directly from a truck, or via a conveyor belt.

Similarly, container shipments can be directly loaded from the port onto waiting truck beds or railroad wagons. They can also be stored in the port until they are picked up. Bulk shipments however need to be unloaded from the ship and then reloaded onto a different mode of transportation.
What are the advantages of container shipping?

Key advantages of container shipping include:

• Flexibility in the type of cargo shipped.
• Better safety and security of cargo due to locking mechanisms on containers.
• Faster transportation times for cargo.
• Easier tracking and better overall supply chain management.
• Better economies of scale equalling greater cost efficiency.

Ask MSC

Either you’re shipping coal or cars, for a dry shipping solution take a closer look at MSC’s container shipping services. Whether you need reefer containers for perishable commodities, or careful handling for rare or precious cargo, our dedicated teams are on hand to ensure the transportation process is as stress free as possible for you. We’re continually looking to improve the services and solutions we offer and to deliver personalised services to meet the needs of each customer.

Contact us today to explore how MSC’s full range of shipping and transportation solutions could be beneficial for your business.

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