Longshore pension fund targets Hanjin parent for $31M owed

Longshore pension fund targets Hanjin parent for $31M owed

Hanjin Shipping was part of a larger South Korean conglomerate that could be on the hook for the defunct container line's financial promises.

NEWARK — A pension fund for longshoremen at the Port of New York and New Jersey wants permission from a federal bankruptcy court to probe Hanjin Shipping’s ties to its powerful parent company to help recover $31 million potentially owed by the South Korean container line.

The NYSA-ILA Pension Trust Fund filed papers Monday with the US District Bankruptcy Court in Newark to force Hanjin to answer the fund’s questions “seeking the identities” of the “controlled group” that is related to the carrier. The $31 million would be owed if the carrier “withdraws” from the pension fund, as set out in the pension agreement between the New York Shipping Association and the International longshoremen’s Union, according to an affidavit filed with the court by John Nardi, who is president of NYSA and chairman of the fund.

The fund wants to identify the companies to help determine whether they also would be liable for the $31 million debt if Hanjin withdrew from the fund.

Aside from Hanjin Shipping, the Hanjin Group has a controlling share of Korean Air Lines, and its subsidiaries range from various logistics companies to universities. In September, the Hanjin Group agreed to invest $54 million in the carrier, to help it through the bankruptcy.

Groups of related companies in South Korea are known as “chaebol,” a conglomerate structure through which sprawling global corporations and multinationals have been created. The most well known chaebol includes Samsung, Hyundai, and Lotte, which runs department stores.  

The legal salvo comes six weeks after the court granted Hanjin Chapter 15 status, meaning that US courts recognize the bankruptcy case filed by the ocean carrier in South Korea on Aug. 30. That allows Hanjin to undertake certain procedures in the United States to move the case along.

The court has spent five months ruling on issues raised by shippers, logistics providers, creditors, and others in an effort to help move some of the estimated 500,000 containers stranded when the company filed for bankruptcy to their destination.

Nardi’s affidavit said that on Sept. 1 Hanjin asked the fund how much the carrier would owe if it withdrew from the fund. The fund replied with the figure of $31 million on Oct. 17, but the carrier has not responded since, he said.

“Hanjin promised the workers who had loaded and unloaded its vessels in the NY-NJ Port the pension benefits,” Nardi said.

The company also has not responded to the fund’s Dec. 20 inquiry as to whether the carrier is a member of a “controlled” group of companies, who could also be liable for the debt if Hanjin withdrew, according to an affidavit filed with the court by Anne Marie Flynn, an attorney for the fund.

“Nor have they acknowledged that they received the questions or intend to respond to them in due course,” the affidavit said.

Contact Hugh R. Morley at Hugh.Morley@ihsmarkit.com and follow him on Twitter: @HughRMorley_JOC.