Another Hanjin vessel arrested, this one in Australia

Another Hanjin vessel arrested, this one in Australia

It is estimated that Hanjin Shipping vessels stuck in limbo are carrying cargo that is owned by 8,300 cargo owners and valued at more than $14 billion.

The Hanjin California has been arrested at Sydney’s Port Botany, the latest vessel to be detained as creditors of the stricken liner launch legal action to recover unpaid bills.

An arrest order for the chartered ship able to carry 3,674 twenty-foot-equivalent units was issued by the state of New South Wales and the plaintiff was listed as Glencore Singapore. As the ship is not owned by Hanjin, the arrest was as a surprise. The 5,300-TEU Hanjin Rome, detained in Singapore last week immediately after the South Korean line entered court protection, is owned by the liner.

With two vessels arrested in China, the latest arrest comes as more information on container release charges emerges amid mounting shipper frustration. Hanjin Shipping is a major customer of Hutchison’s Hongkong International Terminals that is requiring cargo owners to pay an “administrative charge” of 6,000 Hong Kong dollars ($773) per container.

“That is almost three times the terminal handling charges at HIT. What is the administrative charge, and how can they justify that,” said the supply chain director of a major German cargo owner. "Too many people are trying to make a fast buck out of this."

A spokesperson for HIT said the terminal was not going to comment on commercial matters. “Nevertheless, we will endeavour to help the affected parties to minimise any disruption impact to their supply chain,” he said.

Dutch shippers and forwarders on Sept. 2 won a legal action against ECT, a leading Rotterdam terminal operator, that levied a release fee of 1,000 euros ($1,120) for a standard dry container and 1,500 euros for reefer and tank containers. The court ruled the fixed fees were unlawful and ECT could only charge the normal handling fee plus a 25 euros surcharge.

Hanjin Shipping has become the largest ever container line casualty, the victim of a market downturn that has lasted years, overcapacity, dismal demand for container shipping services and poor management. The carrier struggled against mounting debt that had reached $5.4 billion before it lost the support of its banks, including major shareholder Korea Development Bank.

Yet when the ocean carrier entered receivership on Aug. 31, it stunned container carriers and their customers that did not believe the South Korean government would let the line fail. In fact, if a line was to collapse, all signs appeared to point to South Korea’s second largest carrier, Hyundai Merchant Marine, which was also struggling against huge debts and declining profitability.

The difference was that HMM managed to secure the support of banks while its larger compatriot did not, plunging a large chunk of the container shipping supply chain into turmoil. Hanjin has now fallen behind on payments to bunker suppliers and ports, debts that the country’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said are more than $500 million.

According to Korea’s Maritime Ministry, 61 Hanjin container ships and 18 bulk carriers have been refused entry to ports around the world. IHS AISLive satellite ship-tracking data, cross-checked against global shipping schedules and individual vessel data, show that as of Sept. 6 more than 49 Hanjin Shipping vessels are currently not where they should be.

Hanjin has filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States and is planning to take the same legal action in more than 50 jurisdictions around the world to allow its ships and their cargo to enter ports and discharge cargo.

A terminal operator executive in South China, who declined to comment on the record, said he did not expect the Hanjin cargo issue to be resolved for months.

“There is too much cargo out there, and too many complex legal issues and claims to be handled. It is easier for a bulk carrier that has only one cargo owner, but the cargo on a container ship belongs too many different owners,” he said.

The Korea International Trade Association estimates that the ships stuck in limbo are carrying cargo that is owned by 8,300 cargo owners and was valued at more than $14 billion.

Contact Greg Knowler at greg.knowler@ihsmarkit.com and follow him on Twitter: @greg_knowler.