The bankruptcy of the Hanjin shipping line has thrown ports and retailers around the world into confusion, with giant container ships marooned and merchants worrying whether tons of goods will reach their shelves. The South Korean giant filed for bankruptcy protection on Wednesday and stopped accepting new cargo. With its assets being frozen, ships from China to Canada found themselves refused permission to offload or take aboard containers because there were no guarantees that tugboat pilots or stevedores would be paid, the AP reports. Hanjin, the world's seventh-largest container shipper, represents nearly 8% of the trans-Pacific trade volume for the US market.
"Hanjin called us and said: 'We're going bankrupt and we can't pay any bills—so don't bother asking,'" says J. Kip Louttit, executive director of the Marine Exchange of Southern California, which provides traffic control for the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation's busiest port complex. Hanjin says that as of Friday, 27 ships have been refused entry to ports and terminals. That left cargo headed to and from Asia in limbo, much to the distress of merchants looking to stock shelves with fall fashions or Christmas toys. The National Retail Federation wrote to federal authorities Thursday, warning that the bankruptcy is having "a ripple effect throughout the global supply chain" that could cause significant harm to both consumers and the US economy. (Read more shipping stories.)