It was a day like any other day, except it turned into a crisis like no other. A crisis that had impacted numerous countries, businesses and individuals. A moment in time where the 7th biggest shipping line in the world went into administration and 141 of their vessels around the world stopped or were seized. Cargo worth 14 billion dollars held hostage at sea or in ports they were never destined for.
There is no disaster plan in place for this scenario, and no amount of preparation could have prepared the shipping or freight forwarding community for the impact of such an event. The devastation on the front line for customers was heart breaking and the costs to recover containers in foreign ports unobtainable for most.
No one saw the effects this had on everyday business people more than I. I sat on the front line trying to assist clients who had cargo abandoned and or stuck on vessels that would not berth for fear of being arrested. I felt their anxiety, anger, desperation, frustration and complete loss for a situation they had no reason to believe would EVER happen.
Hanjin has a lot to explain still even months after this event. Did any Hanjin representatives ever publicly apologise? No one goes broke over night and administration certainly does not creep up on a company. Even though our lust for low freight rates has made us blind to the fact that these low freight rates were unsustainable. It is the shipping lines that dictate rates in consortium with each other. We may be have been and continue to be the beneficiaries of rates that have bottomed out, but it was the decision of many to increase ship builds at a time when it was economically redundant.
As a forwarder I worked tirelessly to assist my clients who were stuck with CIF shipments they had no control over. The amount of people affected was extremely overwhelming. As each vessel stopped and more people were affected it just kept escalating into a nightmare that refused to go away for me or my clients. Each vessel, each port, each stevedore, requiring different rules and different amounts to pay, on top of refundable bonds being charged by Hanjin. Lending a hand to clients needing bond letters and advice is what I was concentrating on, including negotiations in other countries where goods were abandoned. Trying to get containers out before the window of opportunity closed was an exercise in patients, foreign languages, foreign diplomacy and many, many late nights.
In that time I fielded 100s of calls, spoke to no less than 9 different solicitors and amazingly kept my cool with the Hanjin staff left to battle it out. However, there was always that “worst case scenario”. At the beginning of the crisis, Hanjin informed us that some of our clients goods had successfully transhipped and we of course were ecstatic, we were given tracking details, bond invoices with tranship vessel names, and eagerly awaited their arrival, only to find out that those containers were NEVER shipped on board. A tactic to put us off, perhaps, but it was just another “what the hell” scenario in a sea of them. At times when I was speaking to clients it would have made us all feel better if we could have just cried it out.
Even months after this event I am still dealing with solicitors but I thank my clients, the solicitors, the insurance brokers and the forwarding community in general, because we all came out the other side, with therapy of course, but we made it. Let us hope that shipping rates recover just a little in order to stabilise what has been and continues to be an extremely volatile period, but freight rate volatility is for another blog topic.
Written by Angela Gambell (Director Sales & Marketing)