As go oil prices, so goes the breakbulk industry. That's an exaggeration, but there's more than a grain of truth to that statement.
Energy-related projects account for a large share of breakbulk cargo, which is why they were a lively topic at The Journal of Commerce's Breakbulk Europe conference in Antwerp. Energy project shipments tend to be high, heavy and unsuitable for containerization.
When oil prices are high, there's huge financial incentive to build energy projects of all kinds. Governments in the U.S. and elsewhere have been encouraging development of power plants that rely on wind, solar, thermal and other renewable energy sources. One conference speaker Sandrio Lepori, director of logistics at Alstrom (Switzerland) Ltd., noted an irony -- the projects that will provide most of the world's energy needs for the foreseeable future, including coal and nuclear, still face stiff political and regulatory hurdles.
And while wind turbines have been the hottest thing going in the project cargo business, another speaker raised the possibility of headwinds for carriers that haul these big pieces of equipment.
Andreas Petzold, manager of shipping and logistics at Nordex Energy GmbH, which produces power-generating windmills, said his company is pursuing every opportunity to build the equipment close to where it is installed. "We're working very hard to localize production wherever we can," he said.
That would reduce the number of miles shipped by sea, and be bad news for project-cargo carriers.