Inland shipping is ideal for the transport of large quantities of cargo (bulk); however, break bulk and container transport is also well represented. In fact, practically anything can be transported via inland shipping, including petrol, cars, televisions and clothing. A standard inland shipping vessel with a length of 110 metres can carry a maximum of 3,500 tonnes, which is equal to 120 lorries. The largest inland vessel carries some 10,000 tonnes and even the smallest inland shipping vessel can carry some 350 tonnes.
Inland shipping vessels can carry different types of cargo, depending on the type of ship. Inland shipping is often used for the transport of petroleum, petroleum products, ore, raw minerals, semi-finished products and containers. This is classified as bulk transport.
The inland shipping sector makes a rough distinction between ‘dry’ and 'wet’ loads. However, these two main classifications can be divided further into various goods. Some classes of goods are dealt with below.
Bulk is still the most frequently transported type of goods within the inland shipping sector. In this segment, the inland shipping sector has a market share of no less than 80% compared to other transport modes. Bulk commodities are stowed loose in the hold of a ship and can be either dry or wet loads. Typical examples of dry bulk transport are building materials such as sand and gravel or grain and fodder. But also wet bulk such as oil, gas and ore are examples of bulk commodities. Large volumes transported over large distances remain the core activity of inland shipping. No other transport modality can do this as well as inland shipping can.
The inland shipping sector is rapidly taking the lead in container transport. Currently the market share is around 35%. This means that now more than 1 in 3 containers in the Netherlands is transported over water. The construction of the Maasvlakte 2 will be instrumental in increasing container transport via inland shipping and the goal is to achieve an increase of as much as 45%.
Virtually all dry cargo ships can carry containers in addition to dry bulk. There are very few cases in which inland vessels are specially equipped for the exclusive transport of containers. The smallest ships carry 32 containers and the largest up to 500 twenty-foot containers. The most diverse types of cargo are eligible for transport in containers; from high-tech equipment and clothing to prawns in deep-freeze containers.
Contrary to mass or bulk goods, general cargo comprises materials of which the quantity is not registered per size or weight but per individual item. General cargo is transported in boxes, crates, drums or bales. Containers are actually also a form of general cargo. Examples of general cargo are cars, paper, kerbstone and machinery. Inland shipping is an ideal method of transporting general cargo as it often takes up a lot of space such as paper, which is packed in enormous bales or in rolls.
Transport is termed special transport when the cargo is of such abnormal dimensions that it is not able to be transported via normal cargo vessel. Examples of such cargo are: silos, boilers, transformers, aircraft, bridges and bridge components, parts for the petrochemical industry and other construction parts. The size and characteristics of the cargo call for the deployment of other types of vessels. Usually these are pontoons or ro-ro platforms, which are towed and/or pushed during transportation. Cargo transported via a pontoon is often loaded by huge floating cranes (called a ‘derrick’).