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Slumping commodity markets are making 2017 a difficult year for breakbulk and project cargo shippers and carriers, despite scattered bright spots such as continuing construction of multibillion-dollar petrochemical projects along the U.S. Gulf Coast, and infrastructure in Asia and South America.

Multipurpose carriers face increased competition from container ships and bulk carriers, both of which are beset with overcapacity and low rates. Meanwhile, breakbulk/project demand is suffering from the decline in commodity prices caused by China’s reduced appetite for commodities and by a global oversupply of oil and gas.

Though heavy-lift and other shipments continue for projects already under way, other large mining and petrochemical projects have been postponed until the market’s direction becomes more clear. Volatile trade conditions also are reflected in declining shipments of steel and other industrial commodities. Other headwinds include increased near-sourcing for oversized shipments such as windmills for electric generation.

The shift of commodities such as cotton and coffee from breakbulk to containers has largely run its course. But other breakbulk and project cargos continues to move on multipurpose vessels, and many of the movements are becoming more complex, and require additional planning, expertise and equipment. Breakbulk/project cargo remains a dynamic market.

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Dirk Visser, senior shipping consultant and managing editor at Dynamar, sees improvement in the breakbulk and project cargo industry.

The Maritime Workers Emergency Medical Fund deserves generous support. It offers a helping hand to those in need and provides direct help to those who help make the maritime industry such a special community.