The case for RoRo: A viable alternative to LoLo and container

Shipping heavy breakbulk is a complex activity and many factors must be considered when choosing the best method.

The case for Ro Ro

Customers looking to ship heavy breakbulk across an ocean have three principal modes of shipping at choice: Roll-on roll-off (RoRo), Lift-on Lift-off (LoLo), or container carriers. Let us examine the container option.

An unsustainable business model

Overcapacity has plagued the international shipping industry for years. In 2016 the problem grew so great that ocean freight rates for container shipping fell to record lows. To fill their vessels, container companies turned to breakbulk.

Despite some claiming a recent recovery, industry insiders predict rates to once again plunge in 2018. While this may seem like good news, such pricing is clearly unsustainable and leads to a major risk for customers. The collapse of Hanjin Shipping confirmed the belief held by many about the state of the industry and left many customers facing massive headaches.

Breakbulk for container lines is a short-term fix and more of a hassle than a priority. It disturbs an operation that is geared towards high-efficiency and throughput so the likelihood of creating a long-term partnership between a breakbulk shipper and container line is slim.

When Hanjin went out of business, thousands of containers were detained at ports around the world. If ocean rates once again plunge, how much risk are you willing to accept?

Hidden costs quickly add up with containers

The issues with container shipping go well beyond the sustainability of the business model. Attractive low rates draw in customers, but there is so much more to consider when shipping breakbulk.

Customers with cargo too large to fit inside a container must pay for the additional space that can not otherwise be filled. That cost is significant, as if your cargo is both over-width and over-height you could be hit with a bill for an additional five slots.

Container ship

Breakbulk for container lines is a short-term fix and more of a hassle than a priority.

Cargo that cannot be loaded while resting on flat racks requires labour- and time-intensive lifting operations outside standard processes. Not only does this increase costs, it also adds risk for potential damage as less experienced crew may be handling your cargo.

In addition, when transported on flat racks, the cargo is likely to be exposed to weather and sea spray, impacting the quality and integrity of the products. Although underdeck storage is possible, it increases the complexity for the carrier (and therefore, cost for the customer) as containers above the hatch will need to be discharged before the cargo can be unloaded.

Unpredictable schedules with LoLo

Lift-on Lift-off services are often advertised as liner services, but the understanding of that term differs significantly between RoRo and LoLo, but this is seldom the case. The network is under-developed with vague schedules to cater for unpredictable operations in the port and unscheduled port calls.

Shipping routes and departures are driven by cash. If there is too much excess capacity, ships won’t sail, customers will be asked to pay more, or the vessel will take a detour to pick up additional cargo. If an engineering team is waiting for the cargo to arrive but it gets delayed, costs quickly mount up. There’s also potential charges for late delivery to consider.

“LoLo is generally much slower than RoRo, which gives the latter system an undeniable comparable advantage in cases where high-value added products are transported. All the more so as specialised shipping companies are investing in faster, more reliable ships, which increases the gap between these operations in favour of RoRo.” – Julio Martínez Alarcón, FEPORTS (Port Institute for Studies and Cooperation in the Valencian Region).

The heavy lifting operation at both ends of the journey puts unwanted stress on your precious cargo and increases the risk of damages. Operations are also heavily dependent on weather and swell conditions, which are out of your and the carrier’s control. Transshipment is a lot less common, which limits options for complex routings.

Freight forwarders and OEMs are increasingly subject to a model whereby breakbulk must be delivered on a tight project schedule. Delivery windows are shorter than ever before and hefty delay penalties can be imposed. While this helps to reduce inventory costs, smooth out production spikes, and minimise set down and storage costs, it shifts all the risk onto the freight forwarder, who must in turn rely on their shipping partners. In such an environment, the reliability of a RoRo liner service is a clear advantage to the alternatives.

The partnership approach to RoRo

While known by some as a car-only solution, RoRo shipping of today is a highly industrialised and flexible solution and in many cases the best option to ship heavy breakbulk. RoRo vessels are specifically designed to carry wheeled cargo, and so are well suited to bulky, complex cargo that is securely lashed to specialised wheeled equipment.

Partnering with Wallenius Wilhelmsen Ocean (WW Ocean) for your ocean transportation means reaping the benefits of more than 155 years of experience, world-leading handling equipment, and a proven track record of quality, reliability, innovation and personal service.

Predictability and pre-planning is key to your success

Because of the partnership approach, you’ll notice the RoRo difference before the voyage even begins. WW Ocean operations staff with experience in the unique handling requirements of heavy breakbulk will be available to discuss precise plans, including how best to secure the cargo. Handling equipment can be customised or combined to handle even the most complex cargo.

The published liner timetable enables easy project scheduling, planning, flexibility and peace of mind for you. The hub-and-spoke network opens the world to our customers, while strategic positions of transhipment hubs keeps overall journey times to a minimum.

WW Ocean will deliver your project on time and in best quality

Loading, stowing and discharging breakbulk cargo are delicate operations which demand both experienced personnel and purpose-built equipment. Whatever the size, weight and complexity of your breakbulk, WW Ocean has both the equipment and experience to handle and transport your cargo safely and in the most efficient manner possible. Cargo up to 6.1 metres high, 12 metres wide, and weighing up to 400 tonnes can be handled safely and securely.

An equipment fleet that gets the job done

The workhorses of our equipment fleet are the roll trailers, developed to securely carry cargo up to 140 tonnes on and off the vessel. Roll trailers are suited to all kinds of breakbulk up to 28 metres in length, from machine tools to crane counter-weights, with low-profile and railed configurations also available.

Multi-Purpose Bogies (MPBs) are designed to carry long cargo and are typically used in pairs. They are suitable for very long cargo up to 140 tonnes in weight. Typically, MPBs are used for rail cars, fabricated beams, steel structures, pressure vessels, compact generators and transformers.

Our patented Samson trailers are purposely designed for heavy breakbulk and constantly being improved, while blocks & beams can handle extremely heavy cargo up to our 400-tonne limit. Bolsters are also available for lighter cargo consolidation.

WW Ocean has solid experience in designing bespoke solutions for complex cargo by combining equipment.

RoRo provides secure loading and transit

The added complexity of loading operations for both LoLo and container shipping creates uncertainty that is largely removed with RoRo, because cargo can be loaded onto the handling equipment independently from the vessel schedule. This means the risk of damage is minimal compared to lifting with hoisting equipment at quayside, which is dependent on the vessel schedule and weather conditions.

Once loaded onto the vessel via a stern ramp, cargo is stowed and secured on the most appropriate deck, depending on its weight and dimensions. Because decks are movable, they are optimised before loading to allow for a diverse range of cargo. LoLo vessels can only adjust their decks after the first layer of cargo has been loaded, increasing the loading time significantly.

The climate controlled decks keep delicate cargo safe from exposure to salty water, variable temperatures and high humidity, reducing the risk of damage during transit. WW Ocean has a zero-tolerance policy against damage, enforced through best practices and continuous improvement of handling procedures through our Damage Prevention Programme.

The focus on keeping cargo safe and secure continues in case your cargo moves through transshipment. Your cargo never leaves the equipment it was originally stored on, from vessel to transhipment terminal and thereafter on to the next vessel. Weather-protected storage on the transhipment terminal can be arranged, where necessary.

Heavy breakbulk is our speciality

WW Ocean is on a mission to prove that RoRo is an ideal solution for transporting complex cargo around the world. Its mixture of safety and scheduling certainty offers peace of mind for our customers.

Fast facts

RoRo vs. alternatives: Total cost calculator

A growing number of shippers and forwarders moving high-value goods on tight schedules recognise that the proper way to compare shipping options comes from considering the total landed costs and risk associated to the planned move, rather than just the ocean transport costs, which are often just a small percentage of the overall cost.

While low ocean rates are a tempting prospect, they hide the true total cost of a complex logistics operation. When calculating the full cost of alternatives, don’t forget to include the following factors:

  • Quoted ocean rate
  • Warehousing at port of departure
  • Cargo protection
  • Port handling fees
  • Tools, equipment and labour for disassembling at port of departure
  • Container rental, cleaning and return
  • Tools, equipment and labour for reassembling at arrival port
  • Ground transport costs
  • Late delivery costs
  • Potential cost of rebooking labour and equipment rental in the event of delays

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