Forest products carriers dominate global breakbulk fleet

Forest products carriers dominate global breakbulk fleet

A yacht being lifted to the deck of a G2 Ocean vessel. Photo credit: G2 Ocean.

Forest products carriers G2 Ocean and Saga Welco now dominate the breakbulk fleet, at least in terms of deadweight tonnage (dwt), according to a new report from Netherlands-based Dynamar. Average vessel dwt is 54,100 for G2 Ocean and 50,300 for Saga Welco, with those operators accounting for 7.4 million dwt, or just under 12 percent, of the sectors’ total 63 million dwt. 

The maritime consultancy just released its latest analysis of the breakbulk fleet, its first full update since 2016. According to Dynamar, the sector totals 4,700 ships with an average age of 17 years. Newbuildings have failed to replace the dwt of demolished ships over the past few years. “The current multipurpose orderbook, including open hatch ships but excluding ro-ro [roll-on, roll-off] units, amounts to just 4.2 percent of the existing fleet. Over the period 2000-2018, 2,865 ships of 44 million tons dwt were built and 2,889 vessels of 40 million dwt demolished,” the report states. 

G2 Ocean, a joint venture between Gearbulk and Grieg Star, and Saga Welco, owned by NYK and Westfal-Larsen, operate 89 and 52 ships, respectively, according to Dynamar. G2 Ocean operates open hatch gantry and jib crane ships in the sector, while most of Saga’s ships are open hatch gantry crane types. The two carriers focus on breakbulk forest products, but these are one-way cargoes primarily out of South America. On backhauls they carry neo-bulks, bulk, containers, yachts, and project cargo, often including windmill blades.  

Rounding out Dynamar’s top five multipurpose operators are BBC Chartering, Cosco Specialized Shipping Carriers Co. (CSSCC), and Zeamarine, all tramp or semi-liner operators. CSSCC’s 64 vessels average 27,800 dwt. BBC’s 145 vessels and Zeamarine’s 69 vessels  average 12,900 and 13,600 dwt, respectively. The three carriers account for 4.6 million dwt, or about 7 percent of the sector’s total dwt, although fleet sizes tend to fluctuate. 

Same ships, many sortings 

Multipurpose vessel/heavy-lift (MPV/HL) analysts Dynamar, Drewry, and Toepfer all have slightly different in-house methods for parsing out the specialized MPV/HL fleet that focuses on breakbulk, project, and heavy-lift cargoes. Dynamar splits deepsea operators into multipurpose and heavy-load, and counts both general cargo and ro-ro ships — but not pure vehicle carriers — as multipurpose. Dynamar categorizes “heavy-load” as multipurpose ships with lift capacities from 500 to 3,000 metric tons (mt), open deck/module carriers, and semi-submersibles, not including those vessels only used for offshore installations. 

Grimaldi is the largest conventional, or breakbulk, ro-ro carrier, operating 34 ships that carry cars and trucks, rolling stock, high and heavy, general, project and breakbulk, reefer, and container cargo in several global liner services. Wallenius Wilhelmsen Ocean (WWO) is second for ro-ro vessel carriage of breakbulk cargoes, with eight vessels that look identical to pure car and truck carriers (PCTCs), according to Dynamar, but have ramps strengthened to handle up to 500 mt.   

The three geared, heavy-load vessel operators noted by Dynamar are Biglift, SAL, and Jumbo Shipping, with average heavy-lift capacities between 1,000 mt and 1,600 mt. Vessel dwts average between 10,000 and 15,000 mt.   

The competition

In the report, Dynamar also looks at the niche’s key competitors, or disruptors — i.e., deepsea vessel operators for whom breakbulk is a secondary focus, chased hardest when their primary cargo is in short supply. They include vehicle carriers (PCTCs), conventional reefer ships, container carriers, and dry bulk carriers. Vehicle carriers are ro-ro ships that concentrate on cars, i.e., PCTCs, but can compete for some types of project and breakbulk cargo. WWO dominates this fleet, operating 119 PCTC vessels. 

In addition to many formerly breakbulk cargoes shifting to containers, overcapacity and a market slowdown has led container carriers to pursue project and breakbulk cargoes suitable for their vessels. Fixed schedules and low rates attract many breakbulk shippers. Most analysts expect container interest in breakbulk to downshift when the market recovers; of course, when this happens is anyone’s guess. “Two of the disruptors, the vehicle carriers and containership operators, serve the consumer segment. Demand for their core cargoes strongly depends on the whims of the economy,” notes the report. “When down, the interest in filling their ships with breakbulk cargoes amplifies, and vice versa.”  

While the conventional reefer fleet carries a variety of breakbulk cargoes as backhaul, this segment overall is in decline as its primary cargo shifts to reefer containers. Dynamar also expects much of this fleet to be scrapped as the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO’s) low-sulfur rule, IMO 2020 — the January 1 requirement that the global fleet switch to burning low-sulfur fuel oil — takes hold. 

Contact Janet Nodar at and follow her on Twitter: @Janet_nodar.