Whilst we primarily associate sea freight with one particular size and type of cargo, one of the aspects of shipping that make sending cargo by sea so versatile is that, unlike air freight, gravity does not have as limiting an effect.
So long as the ship is large enough and has a suitably large capacity, heavy equipment shipping can take place with machines and components of considerable weight can be carried on advanced, robust and huge shipping and container vessels.
This naturally leads to a rather ambitious question: What is the largest ever single cargo delivery, and what was the story behind it?
Interestingly, the answer is far more recent than you may expect.
Most cargo that is shipped via sea freight is done so via shipping containers, for several reasons that make perfect sense from a logistical standpoint.
Shipping containers are huge, with the standard sizes all having a width of 8ft and a length of between 20ft and 40ft, which means that there are not that many loads that cannot be carried in a shipping container in any case.
They are also exceptionally strong, with the corrugated steel construction able to hold several fully laden containers above it, and because they are standardised they can be shipped as part of large container shipments, which allows for lower shipping prices.
These prices are low enough to the point that most people shipping heavy cargo around the world will break it up into parts to fit into shipping containers before reassembling the equipment at the destination.
Shipping a large, bulky single piece, therefore requires a very good reason, and there are several examples, such as being a critical part of a reactor that cannot be rebuilt in pieces due to the complexity and precision required in the construction process.
Bayernoil Raffineriegesellschaft in Neustadt, Germany needed to install a new mild hydrocracking reactor, a process that converts heavy fuels into different products, due to damage that was discovered in their old reactors in March 2020.
To do so, they contracted a specialist reactor construction firm based in Italy, who constructed a temporary reactor and shipped it from Koper in Slovenia to the Port of Kelheim in Germany, via the busy Rotterdam port in July 2020. This was installed three months later, but a more permanent solution was needed.
The next phase of the project involved sending a 663 metric ton hydrocracking reactor as well as a slightly smaller 597.6 metric ton hydrotreating reactor from Italy (the former from Ortona and the latter from Porto Marghena) to Rotterdam and finally to Kelheim.
These complete reactors made it to Neustadt without incident and in November were finally installed successfully, making history in the process as two of the world’s heaviest single shipments of cargo.
Due to the nature of reactor construction, there was no real way to break the reactor into parts that could be shipped separately and more efficiently without adding extra months to the construction project on the other side and risking a potentially fatal mistake.