Liquid Bulk Cargo [Types, Maritime Transportation and Claims]

A large tanker vessel docked at a port terminal with storage tanks in the background, illustrating the transportation and storage of liquid bulk cargo.

In 2024, the global market for liquid bulk cargo is experiencing dynamic shifts driven by evolving supply and demand trends, technological innovations, and strategic enhancements in port infrastructure.

The liquid bulk cargo market is influenced by several factors, including global economic conditions, geopolitical events, and environmental regulations. The demand for energy commodities like crude oil and LNG remains robust, driven by industrial growth and increasing energy consumption in developing economies.

Conversely, shifts towards renewable energy sources and stricter environmental regulations are reshaping supply dynamics, influencing the types of liquid bulk cargoes being transported and the routes taken.

To ensure comprehensive coverage and minimize liabilities, cargo insurers must thoroughly understand the intricacies of liquid bulk cargoes. Successful claims management in this niche means figuring out who’s really responsible and understanding the particular risks that come with transporting these kinds of liquids.

If you want to learn about liquid bulk cargo from a marine insurance perspective, this guide will come in handy. We’ll cover:

  • What liquid bulk cargo is
  • The common types of liquid bulk cargo
  • Transport and shipping overview
  • Claims management

Let’s start.

What is Liquid Bulk Cargo?

According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), liquid bulk cargo refers to any cargo carried in closed tanks and poured or pumped into the carrying vessel.

This category includes a wide range of liquids, from hazardous chemicals to edible oils. The handling and transportation of liquid bulk cargo require specialized infrastructure and safety protocols to prevent accidents and environmental damage.


Liquid bulk cargoes encompass a wide range of products essential to various industries. Key sectors include:

  • Energy sector relies on the shipment of petroleum, natural gas, and other related liquids to fuel power plants and meet global energy demands.
  • Chemical engineering and industrial plants regularly transport liquid nitrogen, various chemicals, and other industrial liquids necessary for manufacturing processes and energy production.
  • Food and beverage industry relies on bulk shipping for the transportation of edible oils, liquid sugars, and beverages to meet production and distribution needs.
  • Construction industry utilizes bulk cargo shipping for transporting dirt, rocks, and other materials needed for large-scale land filling and building projects.
  • Mining industry ships metal ores, iron ore, and charcoal as raw materials are extracted and processed.
  • Agriculture Industry frequently ships large quantities of livestock feed, seeds, and other agricultural products to support farming operations.

Types of liquid bulk cargo

Liquid bulk cargo can be broadly classified into the following categories:

  1. Edible Liquids:
    • Vegetable oil: Used for cooking and food production.
    • Cooking oil: Various types used in culinary applications.
    • Fruit juices: Natural and processed juices for consumption.
    • Milk: Dairy products transported in bulk for processing and distribution.
    • Edible oils: Including olive oil, palm oil, and other consumable oils.
  2. Non-Edible, Non-Hazardous Liquids:
    • Lubricants: Used in machinery and engines.
    • Adhesives: Industrial glues and bonding agents.
    • Liquid fertilizers: Nutrient solutions for agricultural use.
    • Zinc ash: By-products from industrial processes.
  3. Hazardous Liquids:
    • Petroleum: Crude oil and refined products.
    • Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG): Used as a cleaner energy source.
    • Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG): Including butane and propane, used for heating, cooking, and as fuel for certain engines.
    • Gasoline: Fuel for internal combustion engines.
    • Dangerous chemicals: Including acids and industrial solvents.
    • Sulphuric acid: Used in various industrial applications.
  4. Non-Hazardous, Non-Edible Liquids:
    • Glycerin: Used in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.
    • Aqueous dyes: Used in textile and paper industries.


An LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) tanker ship docked at a port during sunset, with large spherical storage tanks illuminated in red.
This LNG tanker illustrates the transportation of LNG, a cleaner energy source. Each type of liquid bulk cargo, such as petroleum, chemicals, and edible oils, requires its own specialized vessel to ensure safe and efficient transport.

Liquid bulk cargo categories explained

Hazardous Liquids

These include petroleum, LPG, LNG, and various chemicals. They pose significant risks due to their potential for fire, marine pollution, and air pollution. The hazards are determined by properties such as boiling point, flash point, and auto-ignition temperature.

Non-Hazardous Liquids

This category includes liquids that do not pose significant risks to organisms or the environment, such as vegetable oils, cooking oils, and milk.

Edible Liquids

These are food-grade liquids safe for human consumption, such as wine, edible oils, and juices.

Non-Edible Liquids

This includes both hazardous and non-hazardous liquids that are not suitable for consumption, such as glycerin and certain industrial chemicals.

Transport and Shipping Overview

Liquid bulk cargo can be transported by air, land, or maritime routes. 

In most shipments, the maritime route is preferred due to its cost-effectiveness and capacity. Supertankers can carry up to 2 million barrels of oil, significantly reducing freight costs and delivery times compared to other modes of transportation. However, the high risk associated with maritime shipping includes potential environmental disasters from spills, as not every dock is equipped to handle up to one billion pounds of liquid bulk cargo.

Other transportation modes include rail tank cars, tanker trucks, and pipelines, depending on the distance, infrastructure availability, and specific cargo requirements.

Ports and terminals for handling liquid bulk cargo

The tank terminal market operates on various models based on location, capacity, type of cargo, and services offered. These models include:

  • Dedicated storage terminals: Specific to products like oil, chemicals, or liquefied gases.
  • Multipurpose terminals: Handle a variety of bulk liquids.
  • Contract types: Terminals can operate under long-term contracts, consignment storage agreements, or on-demand rental models.

Key ports around the world, such as those in Rotterdam, Singapore, and Houston, have become pivotal hubs in the global liquid trade market.

Common infrastructure and facilities for liquid bulk cargo

  1. Berths and docks: Specialized berths equipped to handle large tankers, with deep-water access to accommodate vessels with significant draft.
  2. Storage tanks: Various sizes and types, including fixed-roof tanks, floating-roof tanks, and spherical tanks for gases, designed to store different liquid bulk cargo safely.
  3. Pipelines: Extensive network of pipelines for transferring cargo from ships to storage tanks and vice versa. These pipelines are often equipped with heating systems to handle viscous liquids.
  4. Pumps and compressors: Essential for moving liquids through pipelines, these systems must be compatible with the type of liquid being handled.
  5. Loading/Unloading arms: Flexible, articulated arms used to connect the ship to the shore-based transfer system, ensuring safe and efficient transfer of liquids.
Liquid bulk cargo is transferred from the ship at the berth through loading arms, moved via pipelines to storage tanks, and managed by pumps and compressors for safe storage and distribution.

Loading process of liquid bulk cargo

Given the inherent risks and complexities associated with the transfer and storage of liquid bulk cargo, meticulous terminal planning is crucial to enhance productivity at ports and terminals.

These facilities must be equipped with specialized infrastructure to efficiently manage the loading and unloading processes.

Here are the critical steps involved in the liquid bulk cargo loading process:

  1. Tank preparation: Before loading, tanks must be thoroughly cleaned and prepared to prevent contamination. This includes inspecting and verifying that there are no residues from previous cargoes.
  2. Documentation verification: All necessary documentation, including permits, certificates, and maintenance records of the vessel, must be reviewed.
    Hose Connection: Loading hoses are connected between the vessel and the shore storage facility, ensuring that all connections are secure and properly sealed.
  3. Safety checks: Safety checks are conducted, including verifying the integrity of hoses and valves and implementing spill management procedures.
  4. Loading: The liquid bulk is transferred from the shore storage to the vessel using specialized pumps. During this process, flow rates and filling levels are constantly monitored, and precise records are maintained.
  5. Tank condition monitoring: Tank conditions, including inert gas pressure and temperature, are monitored to ensure product stability during loading.
  6. Completion of loading: Once loading is complete, valves are closed, and hoses are safely disconnected. Final inspections are conducted to ensure there are no leaks.
  7. Final documentation: All loading records and documents are updated and verified to ensure all relevant information is accurately recorded.
  8. Post-loading cleaning and maintenance: Hoses and equipment used during loading are cleaned and maintained, preparing them for future use.


When transporting liquid and gaseous cargo, liquid bulk terminals provide facilities for discharge and storage. Key aspects of storage in liquid bulk terminals include:

Storage tanks

Terminals feature various types of storage tanks, such as fixed-roof, floating-roof, and spherical tanks for different types of cargo.

Cryogenic tanks

For gases like LNG, cryogenic tanks are used to maintain extremely low temperatures necessary for storage in liquid form.

Membrane tanks

These tanks offer efficient storage solutions for large volumes of gas and are designed to minimize boil-off rates.

Improper cleaning or maintenance of storage tanks can lead to contamination, and an inadequate temperature control, especially in cryogenic tanks, can spoil the cargo, leading to claims as well.

Looking ahead, key trends in the bulk liquid storage industry include the integration of smart technologies like IoT and AI for real-time monitoring, predictive maintenance, and increased automation to improve operational efficiency and safety.

There is also a strong focus on sustainability, with initiatives aimed at reducing carbon footprints, enhancing energy efficiency, and adhering to stricter environmental regulations. Innovations in storage solutions, such as advanced materials and cryogenic technology, are emerging to meet the growing demand for diverse products, including LNG and alternative energy sources.

Claims Management in Liquid Bulk Cargo Insurance

When it comes to marine insurance, handling claims and disputes involving liquid bulk cargo is critical due to the high costs involved. Transporting liquid bulk cargo poses several challenges, leading to various types of claims.

Managing these claims and disputes effectively requires:

  • A thorough understanding of the legal and regulatory frameworks governing international shipping (e.g., MARPOL, SOLAS)
  • Mitigating risks with custom strategies
  • Implementing prompt incident response procedures
  • Ensuring quick claims management
  • Providing coverage for losses or damages
  • Seeking expert solutions for assessing liability

Primary Causes of Liquid Bulk Cargo Claims


Contamination can occur at any stage, from pre-loading to post-discharging. Liquid bulk cargos have strict specifications, and any deviation can result in significant losses and claims.

Shortage Claims

These arise when there is a discrepancy between the quantity loaded and discharged, due to measurement inaccuracies, leaks, or theft.

Spillage and Leakage

Claims from spills or leaks during loading, transportation, or discharge result not only in cargo loss but also environmental damage and hefty fines.

Temperature Damage

Many liquid bulk cargos, such as chemicals or foodstuffs, require specific temperature conditions. Failure to maintain these can lead to degradation or spoilage.

Mechanical Damage

Mechanical failures of pumps, pipes, or tanks can cause contamination, spills, or cargo loss.


Environmental pollution claims arise from spills or leaks during transit, involving significant cleanup costs and legal penalties.

Improper Handling

Incorrect handling during loading or unloading can damage the cargo or cause contamination, often due to unsuitable equipment or procedures.

Risk Assessment & Loss Prevention

When trouble arises, understanding the options is vital. What to do when faced with potential or actual losses?

  1. Immediate notification
    Start the notification process as soon as you become aware of any loss or damage.
    Alert all relevant parties including your insurance companies, carrier, and any other involved parties.
  2. Send a surveyor
    Evaluate the cause and extent of the loss or damage.
  3. Gather relevant documents
  4. Protest Letter
  5. Submit Claim
  6. Loss mitigation and salvage.
  7. Take immediate steps to secure and protect the remaining cargo.
  8. Seek legal advice (i.e. Arresting Vessel)
  9. Subrogation. Pursue subrogation to recover costs from responsible third parties, ensuring that your company is reimbursed for the expenses incurred due to the fault of another entity.
  10. Utilizing Arbitration and Mediation. Employ arbitration and mediation to resolve disputes efficiently.



With ongoing advancements in maritime transportation technologies, cargo operations have become more efficient and safer than ever.

Technological advances are revolutionizing the transportation and handling of liquid bulk cargo. As a result, claims management, liability assessment, and risk evaluation have greatly benefited from these innovations, opening a range of opportunities for marine insurance.

Remember, it is essential to keep detailed records of tank ullages, temperatures, and inert gas pressures to support any claims arising from contamination or cargo loss.

At Marlin Blue, we are a law firm specializing in claims management and legal assurance for producers, transporters, insurance companies, and carriers. Our services include handling recoveries and subrogations to ensure you receive compensation from responsible third parties.

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