9 Sep 2016

Shipping company's bankruptcy could hit NZ businesses

5:39 pm on 9 September 2016

New Zealand importers and exporters are scrambling to find out how they will be affected after the world's seventh largest shipping line went broke.

An aerial view of a container ship carrying exports (file)

Some containers caught up in the bankruptcy could become a financial dead loss. Photo: 123RF

Hanjin Shipping Co of South Korea filed for bankruptcy protection in its home country and the US last week, leaving 460,000 containers of freight potentially stranded.

The value of this merchandise was put at $US14 billion by the Wall St Journal.

Hanjin has not come to New Zealand for several months but carries New Zealand merchandise which is on shipped from major ports like Singapore.

The Shippers Council represents big exporters like Zespri, Fonterra and Enza, and its deputy chairman Murray Horne said the problem would be most serious for exporters using lines that have an alliance with Hanjin.

"Exports might go on one vessel out of New Zealand and then connect to another one for a trans-shipment to Asia or Europe.

"That is where the exposure would lie for most New Zealand shippers."

Mr Horne said some containers caught up in this mess could become a financial dead loss.

"But the advice we are giving to our members is to work with the shipping line they started with and to work with their insurers and legal advisers to clarify the situation, because every case is different."

The Customs, Brokers and Freight Forwarders Association (CBAFF) said the degree of exposure was unknown at this stage.

One of its members is the global giant Mondiale.

Its director, Phil Bramwell, said his own company was slightly at-risk, as it brought Chinese goods to New Zealand via Singapore.

"We had about 12 containers in total on Hanjin ships and nine of them have been moved as per schedule from Singapore.

"We have still got three others and we don't know what will happen to those - it is very much a wait-and-see situation."

He said the problem was a lot worse for shippers in Australia.

Shipping experts in New Zealand have said a major bankruptcy like this could lead to ships at sea being denied access to ports, because port companies fear their berthage fees will not get paid.

In such cases, ships would often reduce speed to one knot, they said.

That was just enough to maintain stability at sea but slow enough to give lawyers on shore more time to solve the problem.

This could create a strained situation for ship's crew.

In other cases, cargo on board a ship could be seized by a port company in lieu of payment from the company that owned the ship.

This would deprive importers and exporters of the value of their property.

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