Bankrupt container carrier Hanjin Shipping has thousands of empty boxes stranded in ports and inland locations around the world. Some are owned by Hanjin itself, others by container lessors; they have all created logistical problems for facilities like the Port of Long Beach, which saw its total moves drop by six percent in October, led by a 13 percent fall in moves of outbound empties. To clear the backlog, Long Beach eventually shipped out 6,000 empty boxes on a vessel chartered specifically for the purpose.
Thousands more have been stranded in trucking companies' back lots or stuck on drayage chassis wherever there is somewhere to store them.
But early this week a handful of these boxes ended up in an unexpected place – on remote beaches near Tofino, British Columbia.
On November 3, in foul weather, 35 empty containers from the Hanjin Seattle went over the side off Vancouver Island's west coast. The Canadian Coast Guard issued a warning regarding debris in the water – especially of the risk of running into a partially submerged container – and asked mariners to report sightings.
Some of the lost boxes were reefers, and at least a handful of them floated northwest towards Tofino, where they broke up on isolated shores in Vargas Island Provincial Park and Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
Park officials and conservationists are concerned that the reefers' insulation poses a hazard to wildlife: birds may think that small peices of styrofoam are food, and ingesting it can harm them.
Volunteers have organized a beach cleanup to remove the smaller pieces, and park officials believe that they will be able to use heavy equipment to access and remove some of the larger sections. They told local media that they want to remove debris quickly, before it has a chance to break down and spread. Vancouver Island's west coast is notoriously stormy, and wave action could degrade the container panels quickly, officials said.
Transport Canada told CBC that it has not received a response from Hanjin regarding the cost of the cleanup. If authorities should seek to recover damages from the bankrupt carrier, they would join hundreds of litigants from around the world – unpaid bunkerers, shipowners, port operators, suppliers and many others – who are seeking to recover some fraction of their losses in court. Claims for unpaid chartering fees alone exceed $200 million.