What is Breakbulk cargo?

20 July 2018

When telling people you work for Höegh AUTOliners, breakbulk is perhaps not the first thing that pops into mind. However, did you know that we carry close to six million cubic metres of high and heavy and breakbulk cargo annually worldwide. So what is this breakbulk stuff then?

Certainly not as clear as our other cargo segments, but generally we can define breakbulk cargo as “non-rolling cargo” or cargo that is not “self-propelled”. So basically everything then? Well, pretty much so. The breakbulk segment is vast and fragmented, so we will try to break down this cargo group into easier understandable sub- segments.


When we think about mining, we normally think big machines like excavators, dump trucks, drilling rigs, crushers and screening equipment. Most of these are indeed self-propelled but due to the sheer size of some of these units, they are often transported in CKD (complete knocked down) mode and put on rolltrailers. One fascinating example is the Liebherr R9800 which weighs in at 810 MT and has a shovel and backhoe capacity of nothing less than 42 cubic meters. This equates to lifting up 42 000 litres of milk cartons or 1 000 standard bathtubs in one go!


Power generation and distribution equipment is sophisticated high value cargo with large dimensions. In this category, we can find our single biggest breakbulk OEM. We carry both generators and gearboxes for windmills from China and India to the US for final assembly. Water cooler reactors are another commodity falling into this segment, which due to the width is a perfect companion with our Double-wide rolltrailer concept. With the ever push for less Co2 and clean energy, this is a segment to watch and one that will grow – exponentially in the years to come.

Watch a video of a Giant Drum being transported on our customized Double-wide rolltrailer: https://www.hoeghautoliners.com/videoplayer?id=5478633570001#videoplayer


Metro, trams and rail are a very popular commodity these days with worldwide distribution. To transport longer railcars, we have developed our Extended rolltrailer concept which we used to transport 43.5m long trams for the Gold Coast Light Rail system in Australia.

You can watch a video of 43.5m long trams being discharged here: https://www.hoeghautoliners.com/videoplayer?id=5633058445001#videoplayer

According to our Global Head of Cargo Handling, Einar Bassøe, the sheer volume of rail, subway, tram and metro cars carried by Höegh in the past 4.5 years have a passenger capacity of approximately 40 000 people at any given time. That is a big step towards a greener world.


This rather vast segment is not that easily defined. What most of the cargo in this group have in common, however, is that the units are often crated, boxed or plastic wrapped. One great example that our Breakbulk Sales Manager in Germany really loves is injection molding machines (IMM). Injection… what? IMMs as I like to call it are machines that can form plastic into e.g. bumpers and dashboards to be used in the automotive industry. Also, airport bridges (connecting the plane to the gate) from the likes of ThyssenKrupp also fall into this category.

Watch a video of the loading of Thussenkrupp airport bridges here: https://www.hoeghautoliners.com/videoplayer?id=4079647471001#videoplayer


These machines come in many shapes and forms, but the common denominator is that they are used for building roads, infrastructure and buildings. In this group, we find for example big crawler cranes but also smaller excavators. Girders are also a commodity that we carry which fits here – did you know that we have carried girders up to 40 meters long on our vessels?


You can debate whether agriculture equipment should be defined as breakbulk. Well, if you primarily think about tractors I would tend to agree, but if you take a holistic view of the machines that plough, harvest and cultivate the many millions of square meter of fields in the world… well, you may think again. Like for mining, some of these machines are so big that they need to be dismantled before shipment. Huge harvesters from New Holland, Agco and Claas are good examples. The biggest combines (harvesters) can cater for close to a 20 000 litre grain tank – that is input for a lot of bread!

Boats and Yachts

“A ship shipping ships” may spring to mind for this segment. Albeit we have shipped smaller boats and cradles on our own trailers for years, our New Horizon vessels have opened up for new segments like catamarans. Again, put on the Double-wide rolltrailer concept, we are able to carry longer, higher and wider boats, sailboats, speedboats and catamarans than before.

Read how our Double-wide rolltrailer concept transported a 7.12 m long catamaran across the globe: https://www.hoeghautoliners.com/news-and-media/news-and-press-releases/custom-made-equipment-to-transport-catamaran-across-the-globe

However, at the end of the day, breakbulk is like a honey jar. There are so many opportunities out there that we continue to grasp – with continuous innovation in equipment headed by our Head of Global Breakbulk Solutions and his team, together with Global Cargo Handling we have pushed the envelope more than once; And we will continue to do so.


Stian Omli is Global Head of Breakbulk Sales in Höegh Autoliners. He holds 16 years of experience in the maritime sector - primarily in a commercial capacity. Stian has a Master degree with particular emphasis on international management, export strategies and marketing from the University or Surrey.

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