By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Dock workers began unloading furniture, clothing and other cargo on Saturday from a container ship owned by bankrupt Hanjin Shipping Co Ltd <117930.KS>, breaking a logjam that has stranded goods on a dozen vessels bound for the U.S. West Coast.
The Hanjin Greece docked at the Port of Long Beach in California early Saturday morning and workers were hauling off containers of products destined for U.S. retailers, labor union officials said.
But ending the Hanjin shipping crisis could be a protracted affair. Port operators, cargo owners, longshoremen, shippers and others all must reach financial agreements with Hanjin before each ship can be docked, officials said.
Two other ships owned by the South Korean shipper were anchored close to the Long Beach port but as of mid-day Saturday did not have orders to dock, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California, a group that tracks cargo ship traffic. Union officials said nine others were floating in the Pacific.
Around $14 billion of cargo has been tied up globally as ports, tugboat operators and cargo handling firms refused to work for Hanjin, the world’s seventh-largest container carrier, which filed for receivership in a Seoul court Sept. 4.
On Friday, courts in South Korea and the United States cleared the way for Hanjin to spend $10 million to unload cargo from four ships headed to the U.S. West Coast. And on Saturday, shareholder Korean Air approved a plan to provide 60 billion won ($54.16 million) to the troubled shipper.
While the unloading of the Hanjin Greece was underway, truck drivers had not yet been called in to transport the goods from the port for distribution to retailers, many of which are awaiting products for the busy holiday shopping season.
“At this moment, the drivers are still idle,” Patrick Kelly, secretary-treasurer for Teamsters Local 952, said at a news conference on Saturday morning.
Once its unloaded, the Hanjin Greece will be reloaded with empty containers or with containers filled with goods for export, said Barbara Maynard, a spokeswoman for Justice for Port Drivers, a union organizing effort by the Teamsters’ Port Division.
Union officials have voiced concern about the welfare of crew members on Hanjin ships stuck at sea. Initial checks with Hanjin Greece workers found they were in good condition, Maynard said. “The crew on that ship at least is doing OK,” she said.
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Sue Horton and Mary Milliken)