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September 12, 2016

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US logjam ends as bankrupt Korean firm’s ship is unloaded

DOCK workers began unloading furniture, clothing and other cargo on Saturday from a container ship owned by bankrupt Hanjin Shipping Co, breaking a logjam that has stranded goods on a dozen vessels bound for America’s West Coast.

The “Hanjin Greece” docked at Long Beach in California early on Saturday and workers were hauling off containers of products destined for retailers across the United States, labor union officials said.

But ending the Hanjin shipping crisis could be a protracted affair. Port operators, cargo owners, longshoremen, shippers and others all must reach financial agreements with Hanjin before each ship can be docked, officials said.

Two other ships owned by the South Korean shipper were anchored close to the Long Beach port but as of midday on Saturday did not have orders to dock, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California, a group that tracks cargo ship traffic. Union officials said nine others were floating in the Pacific.

Around US$14 billion of cargo has been tied up globally as ports, tugboat operators and cargo handling firms refused to work for Hanjin, the world's seventh-largest container carrier, which filed for receivership in a Seoul court on September 4.

On Friday, courts in South Korea and the United States cleared the way for Hanjin to spend US$10 million to unload cargo from four ships headed to the US West Coast. On Saturday, shareholder Korean Air approved a plan to provide 60 billion won (US$54.1 million) to the troubled shipper.

While the unloading of the “Hanjin Greece” was under way, truck drivers had not yet been called in to transport the goods from the port for distribution to retailers, many of which are awaiting products for the busy holiday shopping season.

“At this moment, the drivers are still idle,” Patrick Kelly, secretary-treasurer for Teamsters Local 952, said on Saturday.

Once its unloaded, the Hanjin Greece will be reloaded with empty containers or with containers filled with goods for export, said Barbara Maynard, a spokeswoman for Justice for Port Drivers, a union organizing effort by the Teamsters’ Port Division.

Union officials have voiced concern about the welfare of crew members on Hanjin ships stuck at sea. Initial checks with “Hanjin Greece” workers found they were in good condition, Maynard said.

“The crew on that ship at least is doing OK,” she said.


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