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What is a Bulk Carrier?

Bulk carrier ship is a specially designed ship to carry cargo in bulk form. These bulk ships or bulkers or bulk freighters have large wholes called hatches to load cargo. Cargo like grain, sugar, cement, ore and coal load into the hatches in unpacked form.

The bulk vessel is popular as it is economical and can carry larger quantities of cargo as no space is required for pallets and packages. The International Convention on Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) has defined bulk carrier as “a ship constructed with a single deck, top-side tanks and hopper side tanks in cargo spaces and intended to primarily carry dry cargo in bulk”.

In 1852 first bulk ship has constructed and different ship sizes, technologies and sophistication have introduced thereafter. Use of bulk vessels started in Great Lake, EUA with the carriage of iron ore.

New bulk ship design mainly focus on safety, higher deadweight capacity and efficiency.  It is important to pay attention to whether hatches are getting corrosive and hatch covers well fit so liquid go through the cover. Since the cargo loaded without packing on bulk carrier cargo could get damaged or contaminated if no attention paid to mentioned matters.

There are two types of hatch covers are available. One type can fully remove from the hatch for cargo loading and unloading. Once the operation is done, the hatch cover will be placed on top of the hatch using cranes. Other type covers are movable using a hydraulic jack on top of the hatch.

Around 80% of the world bulk fleet is built in Asia and South Korea leads the bulker vessel construction. Around 15% of world tonnage is transported by bulk ships. In 2019, the dead weight of the world bulk fleet accounted for 842,438,000 MT. Greece, Japan, and China are the top three owners of bulk carriers owning more than 53% of the world fleet.

Bulk carriers can be categorised as small, Handysize, Handymax, Panamax, Capesize and Very Large by their size. And there are few more methods to categorise bulk ships as mentioned below.

Bulk Carrier Categories by Size

Small Bulk Carrier

 Small Bulk Carrier _Daily Logistics
Small Bulk Carrier

Small bulk ships also known as mini bulk carriers. These ship’s LOA lies between 100 m to 130m. They are small in size with 10m draft . Mini bulkers commonly use for costal services and as daughetr vessels to feed large vessels. Cargo carrying capacity of small bulkers is less than 10,00 MT and built with a single hold.

Handysize Bulk Carrier

The deadweight capacity of handysize bulk ships varies between 10,000 tons to 39,999 tons. These ships have a draft of 10m and a LOA of 150 m to 200 m. These vessels are ideal to transport cargo between small ports. Most of the handysize ships are geared vessels.

Handymax Bulk Carrier

LOA or the length of the handymax remain same as handysize between 150 to 200 m. Her draft goest up to 11 m to 12 m. Same as handysize, handymax are well suited for small ports and the deadweight lies between 40,000 t to 64,999 t. These deadweight figures are general measurements and could vary a little.

Panamax Bulk Carrier

Panamax range is the largest bulk vessels which can pass through the panama cannel.Maximum length of the beam should be 32.24 m. Panamax vessels have a deadweight capacity of 65,000 tons to 99,999 tons.

The panamax vessel size depends on the size of lock chambers in the panama chanal, bridge of Americas height and the water level of the chanal.

New Panamax is the latest largest vessel size which can sail through Panama canal. This size has published after the opening of 3rd set of locks in the canal. New Panamax also calls as neo-Panamax size.

Remember, the ships which cannot pass Panama chanal with the original canal lock size belongs to the post Panamax or super Panamax categories.

Capesize Bulk Carrier

Capsize ships are larger than new Panamax and Suezmax. Since these ships cannot pass through the channels alternative routes have to use like passage via Cape Horn or the route of the Cape of Good Hope to sail between oceans.

With the deepening of Suez chanal in 2009, some Capesize ships can go through the Suez. Capsize vessel’s DWT range from 100,000 tons to 200,000 tons. Also, we could say Capesize range is above 100,000 tons as very large bulk carriers also consider as a sub category of Capesize. Yet very large bulk carriers consider as a separate category.

Very Large Bulk Carrier

Very large bulk carriers have two categories as very large ore carrier (VLOC) and very large bulk carrier (VLBC). These ships deadweight is above 200,000 tons. Very large bulk carriers consider as a subcategory of Capesize bulk carriers.

Bulk Carrier Categories by General Type

General Bulk Carrier

Bulk ship sizes from handysize to handymax are considered as general bulk carriers. Most of the general bulk carriers are geared vessels. They have equipped with cranes, conveyor or derricks to facilitate cargo loading and discharging. An equipment calls grab fitted to the crane in order to load and discharge bulk cargo from the ship and out the ship.

Combined Carrier

Combined carriers have segregated holds and tanks to carry dry bulk and liquid bulk simultaneously. Ore-Oil carrier and Oil-Bulk-Ore carrier (OBO) are examples for combined carriers. Also known as combination carrier. These ships are expensive and designed with high safety to make sure dry and liquid are not mixed together.

Geared Carrier

Geared Bulk Carrier Daily Logistics
Geared Bulk Ship

Geared carriers are equipped with cargo handling cranes onboard. No need to worry whether the port or the terminal has the cargo handling cranes when the ship is geared.

Gearless Carrier

Gearless Bulk Carrier Daily Logistics
Gearless Bulk Ship

Gearless bulk ships depend on the cranes and equipment available at port or the terminal. Most of the VLOC  (Very Large Ore Carrier) are geareless vessels. When the vessel is geareless no need to spend on crane/convayor installing, maintainace and repairs.

Bulk In Bag Out| BIBO

Bulk in bag out Carrier Daily Logistics
BIBO Ship: CHI Innovator; Photo Curtesy: vesseltracker.com

Bulk in bag out or BIBO is a concept developed to minimize the pilferage while transporting bulk cargo. BIBO ships are equipped with a complete facility to produce bagged cargo from the loose cargo loaded onboard.


Lakers are also known as lake freighters. These vessels are designed to operate in Great Lakes of North America. Common cargoes in lakers are potash, taconite, grain, salt, cement, sand, limestone, slag, gypsum and coal. Most of the lakers are geared vessels. The lake freighters have a beam of 32 m and a draft of 17 m. The Laker, American Spirit belongs to the largest laker family with a DWT of average 78,000 tons.

Bulk Carrier Categories by Region


Kamsarmax is the vessels which can be berthed at the port of Kamsar in the Republic of Guinea. These ships have a LOA of 229 m, breadth of 32.2 m and a draft of 14.4m. Kamsarmax has a deadweight capacity of  82,000 tons.


Newcastemax comes with a capacity of 185,000 dwt and the beam of 47 m. These ships are capable of berthing at port of Newcastle, Australia. First LNG fueld newcastlemax carrier will add into the world flee in 2020.


Setouchmax is the maximum vessel size allowed to enetr the ports in Setouch Sea in Japan. The designed dwt of these vessels are 205,000 with a draft of 16.10 m. Maximum LOA count as 299.9 m


Bulk Vessel passing St. Lawrence Seaway_ Daily Logistics
Bulk Vessel passing St. Lawrence Seaway

Seawaymax ships can pass the St. Lawrence Seaway connecting Atlantic ocean to the Great Lakes of North America. Seawaymax has a LOA of 226 m and a draft of 7.92 m. The proposal of deepening of St. Lawrence Seaway has rejected due to its impact on the environment.


The largest vessel which can pass the Straits of Malacca calls as Malaccamax. Malaccamax’s ship dimensions are LOA 330 m, draft 20 m and 300,000 DWT.


Dunkirkmax is the allowable ship size in the eastern harbour lock in the Port of Dunkirk, France. Dunkirkmax has a capacity of 175,000 dwt ,LOA of 289 m and a maximum beam of 45 m.

Harmonized Notation from IACS (Jan. 2002)

The structural failures of bulk carriers could cause numerous losses and damage could pay with the lives of people. CHRISTOPHER and HONGHAE SANYO accidents remain the two largest bulk carrier accidents due to structural failures.

In order to prevent such accidents, the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS) has introduced the harmonized class notations for bulk carriers.


Bulk carriers designed to carry dry bulk cargo with a density < 1.0 ton/m3. BC-1 provides the cargo loading guidelines for homogeneous light cargo, heavy grain and ballast.


BC-II classify vessels designed to carry homogeneous heavy cargo while all the cargo holds are loaded


BC-III provides guidelines on loading heavy cargo with some empty holds.

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