Stranded Hanjin Crew Denied Shore Leave

Crewmembers of the Hanjin Marine raise a banner during an ILWU solidarity rally (courtesy Justin Hirsch/fb)

By MarEx 2016-10-05 21:37:52

Like seafarers aboard so many Hanjin Shipping vessels stranded in ports or offshore around the world, the crew of the Hanjin Marine have not been able to leave the vessel since the shipping company entered receivership in late August. 

The Marine is now at anchor in Puget Sound, but last week she was alongside at Terminal 18 in Seattle, and Jeff Engels, West Coast coordinator for the International Transport Workers' Federation, paid a visit to see how her crew were doing. 

Engels found that the crew were getting their pay and had an adequate food supply – but the crewmembers said that the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol had denied them shore leave on concerns that they posed a flight risk. 

Last week, the ITF and the local chapter of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union organized a rally on the pier during a shift change, honking their horns to call attention to the crew's situation and to support their desire for shore leave. 

“The dockers’ action was the type of urgent expression of solidarity that ILWU members are known for taking to help any worker who is in distress,” said ITF President Paddy Crumlin. “It not only showed the seafarers that their voice is being heard, but also helped reveal that these entirely innocent workers are being denied that most basic of rights: to step on land after weeks or months at sea. It should be inconceivable that they are being denied that right. We hope that wiser heads at the CBP will now prevail and they will be allowed ashore.”

Many other crews find themselves in similar situations. Hanjin is working with courts, ports, government administrations and creditors in order to offload stranded cargo from its vessels and return chartered ships to owners. Prior to its collapse, it operated approximately 100 container vessels with 2,500 crew. Many of these ships have been awaiting instructions at sea or have fallen under arrest in port. 

An ITF official told the Wall Street Journal that U.S. policy towards shore leave for Hanjin crews is a "serious exception" to the stranded seafarers' treatment in other nations. 

In a Facebook post in mid-September, Jeff Engels said that the crews of other Hanjin ships on the U.S. West Coast were getting paid, and that the Korean ITF-affiliated union FKSU is keeping track of Hanjin's vessels and of crew welfare worldwide. Aside from the lack of shore leave for crews stranded in the U.S., Engels warned against over-dramatization of the Hanjin seafarers’ circumstances, emphasizing that the situation remains fluid. 

Hanjin's creditors may face a more complex and challenging scenario. Bunkerers OceanConnect Marine say that their $800,000 lien against the chartered-in vessel Seaspan Efficiency may be impossible to collect if the ship is scrapped by her owners. OceanConnect and a group of other American creditors have asked a federal bankruptcy judge for expedited information on the status of Hanjin vessels and cargo so that they can take legal action against the bankrupt firm's assets – before Hanjin's ships leave the country. 

"If the [plaintiffs] are not able to locate their property and secure their maritime lien rights before the vessels are sold for scrap, damaged, or otherwise abscond from US ports, and not able to secure their property before they depart US ports, then they may be irreparably harmed,” the group said in a court filing. 

In related news, off Singapore, the Hanjin New York dragged anchor and struck the container ship MSC Claudia last Friday, knocking ten 40-foot boxes off of the New York and onto the Claudia's bow. The Claudia lost one container over the side. All were empties, and the ships suffered only minor damage. 

Singapore has provided Hanjin with bankruptcy protection, and its port is a designated "safe haven" for offloading Hanjin cargo without risk of vessel arrest. Nearly a dozen Hanjin vessels have already offloaded at Singapore's terminals, reports Channel NewsAsia.