U.S., Korea, Talking Solution for Stranded Hanjin Ships

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By Brandon Ross

Sept. 9 — The Commerce Department is in talks with the South Korean government on what to do about Korea-based cargo ships stranded in U.S. waters, a situation created by the recent bankruptcy filing by what was the world's seventh-largest container ship company, Hanjin Shipping Services Co. Ltd.

Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.), who represents the Port of Los Angeles, revealed the talks in Sept. 9 press release in which she said she spoke with Steve Haro, assistant secretary for legislative affairs for the Commerce Department, about the matter. After Hanjin announced its bankruptcy filing with the Seoul Central District Court in South Korea Aug. 28, most or all ports around the world, including in the U.S., stopped loading and unloading Hanjin vessels (See previous story, 09/06/16) ..

Now, at the height of the shipping season, Hanjin ships are left to float off the U.S. coast, cargo and crews aboard, because the ports refuse to let the ships dock and unload, as the ports have no guarantee of payment.

Hahn, a member of a House subcommittee with jurisdiction on maritime issues, led a letter from the Congressional Port Caucus to the Commerce Department to step in to persuade South Korea and Hanjin's parent company, Hanjin Group, to agree to cover the cost for U.S. workers to unload the ships.

“[The department] updated me on their efforts which include talks with the Korean ambassador to the United States Ahn Ho-young and our ambassador to Korea Mark Lippert, as well as conversations with US ports and stakeholders who may help put pressure on the Korean government,” Hahn said in the Sept. 9 press release.

Elizabeth Odendahl, Hahn's communications director, didn't elaborate on what the Commerce Department told Hahn because the information was made available specifically for the congresswoman, she said. “This is proprietary information,” Odendahl told Bloomberg BNA.

However, she said that, “We're encouraged” by the information the department gave and that it is a “good start.”

In the press release, Hahn called on the South Korean government to step in.

“I continue to believe that Hanjin’s parent company as well as the Korean government should take responsibility and cover the costs necessary to get this cargo moving,” Hahn said in the release.

The Commerce Department didn't immediately respond to Bloomberg BNA's request to elaborate on Haro's conversation with Hahn or the information it received from the Republic of Korea.

On Track Despite Hanjin

As Commerce works with South Korea on a solution, imports to the U.S. are moving along “at near-peak levels” because “alternative arrangements” have been made, the National Retail Federation said in a Sept. 9 press release.

Hyundai Merchant Marine, South Korean's second-largest container ship company, pledged to send ships along U.S. and European trade routes that were previously exclusive to Hanjin (See previous story, 09/02/16) (See previous story, 09/02/16).

“Hanjin should not significantly affect volume for the month,” Jonathan Gold, the retail group's vice president for supply chain and customs policy, said in the release. “But millions of dollars worth of merchandise is in limbo at the moment, and retailers are working hard to make sure it ends up on store shelves in time for the holidays.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Ross in Washington at bross@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

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