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The air freight industry is poised to pick up any slack caused by the collapse of Hanjin Shipping – but shippers are holding on, hoping that the confusion will end soon.

However, Robert Keen, director general at BIFA, warned them that “the worst is yet to come”.

Some $14bn-worth of goods is thought to be stranded at sea – as well as about 1,000 crew – as Hanjin ships try to avoid being seized by creditors. But charter brokers and forwarders have told The Loadstar that so far shippers are waiting before looking to air freight to make up any shortfall.

Mr Keen said: “There are still a lot of boxes that are nowhere near a port or Customs. Forwarders need to talk to their customers first to see if they need to re-order goods – those at sea could be held up for a long time.”

He added that generally an administrator is appointed to deal with creditors in a bankruptcy, but that this case was “such a big, complex issue, it seems everyone is just firefighting”.

One UK air freight forwarder told The Loadstar only one client so far had needed support, in South-east Asia.

He said: “We are ready, and have sea/air as a back-up if needed, but the cost might start to make more sense if air freight rates creep up.

“From what I hear from our sea freight team, it is not really clear exactly what the implications are of this Hanjin situation with stock in transit.

“Containers that are in UK seem to be available if you pay the demands of the port and container deposits – it’s what is happening to stuff on the water that is less clear, and perhaps people are trying to understand that before they jump to air [freight services].”

A broker added: “We have not seen any real impact yet. In terms of peak season capacity there’s a bit of gambling going on at the moment – like every other year. Forwarders try to get the rates down while the operators try to keep them high.

“The Hanjin issue has definitely heightened this – but at the moment it’s still mostly speculation about what the impact will be.”

While a judge in the US has allowed Hanjin ships to dock with temporary protection, no one wants to unload the cargo in case they don’t get paid. As a result, it appears that Samsung’s $38m-worth of goods on ships at Long Beach have not yet been released. Many manufacturers need to get parts into final assembly before the holiday season.

Local media have reported that one vessel at Long Beach, the Hanjin Montevideo, has been seized by US marshalls acting for a fuel supplier owed $775,000. Another vessel is said to have left US waters for Mexico, where it would be able to use reserve fuel not allowed in US low-sulphur-regulated waters.

South Korea’s Ministry of Strategy and Finance, meanwhile, reported that eight vessels had unloaded after local port authorities provided guarantees and that Hanjin has applied for a “stay” order in 43 countries.

It has also sent 20 ships for freight destined for the Americas, Europe and South-east Asia and hopes Hanjin’s alliance partners will help with waiting cargoes.

However, according to one port, Hanjin, and not its alliance partners which may carry the cargo, pay for the unloading.

Splash24/7 has teamed up with BigOceanData to show where Hanjin’s ships are.

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