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Posted on: October 27, 2019

BREAKBULK BIG BUSINESS AT GALVESTON WHARVES

What do bananas, BMWs and bulldozers have in common? All are breakbulk cargoes that move through the Port of Galveston.

 In 2018, breakbulk made up 27 percent of the 4.1 million tons of cargo that passed through the port and generated $7.7 million in port revenue. The port collects revenue every time a piece of cargo moves across our docks and when we store cargo in our laydown yards. 

Breakbulk also provides good-paying jobs for Galveston labor unions, ship pilots, rail, trucking and other port partners. In fact, breakbulk creates more labor work hours than any other cargo because it’s more labor intensive.

 For these reasons, breakbulk is an important part of our diverse business portfolio. To retain breakbulk business and to win new business, we will need to invest in waterfront infrastructure and in land to move and store cargo. 

What is Breakbulk?

By definition, breakbulk is any cargo loaded individually. It can be transported in boxes, as with bananas, or individually, as with the BMW vehicles, farm equipment and wind turbine pieces you see as you drive down Harborside Drive. Galveston Wharves has handled breakbulk since it was founded almost 200 years ago. While men carried cargo on their backs in and out of ship holds for more than a century, today longshoremen move breakbulk using cranes and forklifts. Galveston longshoremen also have to be adept at driving everything from cars to military tanks on and off of ships.

A Big Part of Our Business

Since the 1960s, a growing amount of cargo has been shipped globally in containers, leading to an overall reduction in the amount of cargo shipped as breakbulk. While breakbulk shipments have declined globally, Galveston Wharves maintains a thriving breakbulk business for a number of reasons.  

First, we’re conveniently located 30 minutes from open seas, have rail service and are near a major interstate, which is convenient for truck shipments.  

Second, Galveston’s dedicated, hard-working longshoremen efficiently move cargo, helping us earn a reputation as a port that takes great care of its breakbulk cargo customers.

 Third, we’ve worked hard to attract and keep our breakbulk customers who need to ship cargoes that that don’t fit in containers, including wind turbine parts and vehicles.

 We’ve been moving wind turbine parts into the U.S. for more than a decade. As the wind power industry has grown, so has the amount of wind turbine cargo we move. In 2018, 1,666 pieces crossed our docks. This year it could be more than 2,000.

 In 2016, we celebrated the opening of BMW Group’s new Vehicle Distribution Center to serve dozens of dealers across Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas. This center imports and processes thousands of cars annually. 

What’s the future of breakbulk?

We want to continue to grow our breakbulk business, particularly wind turbines, vehicles and heavy equipment. To do this we need to invest in waterfront infrastructure by:

 Repairing berths

  • Maintaining and increasing channel depths
  • Adding new mooring options
  • Expanding cargo laydown acreage  


 Look for details in our 20-year Strategic Master Plan, coming soon!

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