Shipping Company Bankruptcy Leaves Container Ships Stranded With Dwindling Food, Water For Crews

Image courtesy of Max Feingold

We recently wrote about how the bankruptcy of Hanjin Shipping could put holiday orders for hot-ticket items from companies like Samsung and LG at risk for delays and higher costs, but what we didn’t get into at the time was the increasingly spartan living situations for the workers stranded on board dozens of ships stuck at sea or in port.

As we mentioned in the earlier story, many Hanjin ships never made it to port after Korea’s largest shipping company suddenly declared bankruptcy last week. In many cases, remaining out to sea prevented creditors from trying to seize Hanjin ships and property. Some ships that were already docked when the bankruptcy occurred had already been claimed by creditors looking to get repaid. In other instances, ships were refused entry because of an apparent inability to pay port fees.

While much of the focus has been on the cargo that’s not making it to shore, and therefore not to stores or consumers, a recent Bloomberg report [WARNING: Auto-play video at link] looks at the more pressing issue of the lives potentially being put at risk because the stranded crews are running short on the essentials.

As of yesterday, there were 85 Hanjin-operated ships sitting out at sea, waiting for someone to give them a place to park their massive vehicle.

“Our ships can become ghost ships,” a manager at the company’s labor union tells Bloomberg. “Food and water are running down in those ships floating in international waters.”

Even in some cases where ships have been allowed to dock and unload their cargo, they have had to go back out to sea.

While Hanjin says it is working to get supplies to stranded crews, one captain says his request for food and water was denied.

Meanwhile, some ships are steering toward ports where the laws make it less likely that Hanjin property will be seized. That may now include the U.S., after a federal bankruptcy judge ruled yesterday that Hanjin ships could dock in American ports without immediate concern of seizure.

While that might allow the crew to get some food and hydrate, the containers may not be making it off those ships in the near future because of the expense involved.

The South Korean government and Hanjin’s parent company have agreed to inject some capital to end the logjam, but that would only cover a fraction of the more than half a billion dollars in unpaid bills for the shipping company.

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