With an estimated US$14 billion worth of cargo stranded following the collapse of Hanjin Shipping, shippers around the world are scrambling to retrieve their cargo.

In the US, Samsung Electronics is seeking a court ruling for permission to access its cargo from Hanjin ships. The Korean electronics giant wants to pay cargo handlers to retrieve its goods, as port services companies refuse to work for Hanjin amidst doubts of payment following the carrier’s financial collapse.

Samsung and other shippers also fear that if the ships are seized by Hanjin creditors, their cargo will be impounded while potentially lengthy bankruptcy proceedings decide on how the assets can be disposed of to settle the carrier’s debts.

The Hong Kong Shippers’ Council (HKSC) has also challenged the legality of container terminals withholding cargo from the beneficial owners.

“The arrangement is not acceptable (as) cargo belongs to shippers, the beneficial cargo owners are not shipping lines,” a spokesman was quoted in a statement by HKSC. “Therefore, terminal operators cannot have a lien over cargo, they have no right to withhold containers and ask shippers to pay what is owed to them by the shipping lines.”

The standoff has arisen as terminal operators have had to deal with thousands of boxes left in container yards following the collapse of Hanjin.

Hutchison’s Hongkong International Terminals (HIT) is charging a US$1280 security deposit on all Hanjin containers handled.

HIT issued the following statement: ‘Ever since the filing for receivership by Hanjin Shipping, the logistics industry and key international containerised cargo trade have been severely disrupted. Cargo inadvertently held up in the receivership process may cause substantial time delay resulting in significant financial losses for their beneficial owners.

‘HIT has been working relentlessly to help affected parties to minimise the impact of the disruption to their supply chain. Emergency measures have been put in place to ensure secure and efficient change of custody of affected cargo and to facilitate shippers to make alternative carriage arrangements.

‘A security deposit is payable by shippers/forwarders to ensure the proper return of the Hanjin containers so that we can account for the empty containers in due course. Shippers/forwarders will get a full refund upon return of the empty containers. However, we can’t comment on the specifics of any commercial agreement.’

HKSC urged shippers who are having problems to seek legal advice “without delay to minimise the undesirable consequences”. The Council is seeking legal advice on how to pressure terminal operators in Hong Kong to withdraw container release charges that are deemed too high.