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International Forwarding Association Blog » Specialized transportation » Modes of Transportation and Specialized Equipment by Cargo Type

Modes of Transportation and Specialized Equipment by Cargo Type

The main types of cargo include livestock, foodstuff, liquid and dry bulk cargo, machinery and equipment, vehicles, and crude oil. Depending on type, a different mode of transportation and vessel is used. When choosing how to ship commodities, carriers take different risks and hazards into account, including fungal and bacterial growth, spoilage of foodstuff, fire, and volatile behavior.


This category includes a variety of items that may or may not require refrigeration transport, including partially processed, fresh, frozen, and packaged goods. As a rule, foodstuff is challenging to ship due to the short shell life of goods and the risk of spoilage, making air freight the most suitable mode of shipping. Cargo with a longer life is also transported by sea using refrigerated vessels where temperature is maintained below 0⁰C.


Livestock is typically shipped for bi-products, meat, and breeding. Shipping livestock also presents challenges such as ensuring proper ventilation, nutrition, temperature and adequate lighting. Vessels used to transport animals include specialized ships and modified bulk carriers that allow for the safe transporting of different categories of livestock. Ships are also equipped with HVAC systems to maintain proper ventilation and temperatures for animals.


Vehicles are commonly shipped through ferry services in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, and some parts of Asia, including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and China. Vehicles are transported on Ro-Ro vessels which are designed to ship oversized cargo and withstand large loads.

Factory Parts, Machinery, and Equipment

Shipping parts, equipment, and machinery is a profitable business, especially when transported in large quantities. This is because they do not require special equipment to withstand sea motion. The main risk here is rusting and corrosion due to moisture developing onboard vessels. That is why ships are equipped with drying units to maintain appropriate temperatures. Calcium-based agents are also used to eliminate rust and keep cargo safe.

Liquid and Dry Bulk Cargo

Both categories are shipped by sea using specialized equipment to prevent cargo from moving or leaking. Liquid bulk cargo, in particular, can be highly volatile, posing risk for both, the environment and crew members. To prevent leakage, cargo usually has a double bottom and is double-shelled.

Toxic and Hazardous Cargo

Hazardous and toxic cargo poses a number of challenges during shipping, regardless of the mode of transportation. The main risks include contamination, accidental poisoning, toxic leakage, and corrosion of the container units or the ship itself. In such cases, operators, cargo handlers, and crews are at risk due to inappropriate shipping, handling, and storage. To minimize risk during transit, ships are outfitted with specially designed and reinforced units for poisonous cargo and chemicals. In case of an accident, different factors are taken into account such as individual sensibility, chronic vs. acute exposure, duration of the exposure, as well as concentration of the substance. Symptoms of exposure can vary from shortness of breath, cough, and pain to decreased consciousness and hypoxia.