Navigating Uncertainty: Loaded cargo ships docked at the Port of Long Beach.

Navigating Uncertainty: Loaded cargo ships docked at the Port of Long Beach. Photo by Courtesy Photo

Ships loaded with cargo were sitting directionless off the California coast Wednesday after Hanjin Shipping filed for bankruptcy and ceased operations.

Three Hanjin Shipping Co. Inc. cargo ships destined for the Port of Long Beach were ordered to stop and were waiting off the California coast, while a fourth was at anchor in the Long Beach harbor under orders by local authorities not to leave port, said Kip Louttit, executive director of the Marine Exchange of Southern California.

From the 25 or so crew members stuck on each of the ships, to trucking companies trying to move containers to and from ports, to retailers waiting for goods to arrive, the unprecedented bankruptcy of the seventh-largest carrier in the world could have far-reaching implications.

“To my understanding, nobody has seen something like this,” Louttit said.

He said his non-profit organization, which coordinates ship movement within the Long Beach and Los Angeles harbors for a fee paid by shipping companies, was told by Hanjin “we’re not paying any bills.”

Employees at freight forwarding and trucking companies said Hanjin gave them the news by email Wednesday.

“We’re cancelling all bookings, and all operations have ceased,” Hanjin said in an email to Los Angeles-based American Export Lines, according to marketing director Kasra Ferasat.

“It’s sad, because we use them a lot,” Ferasat said. “We have a great relationship with them… It’s definitely going to be a problem for us, for the whole industry.”

While Hanjin calls at ports around the globe, its primary operation in California is at the Port of Long Beach’s Pier T. Hanjin has majority ownership in the pier’s operator, Total Terminals International, and it’s responsible for one-third of Long Beach’s cargo. Of that, Hanjin Shipping moves a third of the Pier T cargo, while other carriers pay to use the terminal as well.

Even Hanjin’s own terminal stopped accepting the company’s ships.

“Until further notice, TTI Long Beach will discontinue delivery of all Hanjin Import Containers,” the company said on its website. “Additionally, TTI will no longer accept Hanjin export or empty containers through the gate.”

Tony Hernandez, a dispatcher at trucking company 2000 Fuel Corp. Inc. in Wilmington, said his company received a similar message – that all of the terminals where its trucks operate were no longer accepting Hanjin cargo or containers.

Already, just hours after the announcement and about a day after filing for court receivership, American Export Lines was feeling the pinch.

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