Getting Shipments Stalled at Sea To Singapore Day

When the world's seventh largest container carrier, Hanjin Shipping Co., Ltd., filed bankruptcy in 2016, it left international exhibitors and other companies with $14 billion in shipments stalled in the waters from Shanghai to Los Angeles.

Cargo ships from the South Korean company were waiting outside of ports in the United States filled with shipments that ranged from event and exhibit materials to fall clothing destined for holiday store shelves. One estimate indicated as many as 80 Hanjin container ships worldwide that were sitting in the seas seeking clearance to dock.

One of the ships in limbo was the Hanjin Boston, stranded off the port of Los Angeles. Amid the cargo sitting on that ship were containers belonging to a unit of the Singapore Prime Minister's office - a PIBL customer.

Many of the country's largest ports were preventing the delivery of Hanjin import loads, awaiting provisional protection from seizure eventually granted by a U.S. bankruptcy court. As uncertainty about the release of the ships and their cargo escalated, PIBL worked tirelessly to secure information about the fate of the ships and the Singapore government's shipments.

Five containers on the Hanjin Boston held essential exhibit materials for Singapore Day, the biggest reunion of Singaporeans on the West Coast, organized by the Overseas Singaporean Unit in the office of the Singapore Prime Minister. This annual event was being held in San Francisco over a weekend. The set-up for this Singapore showcase depended on the release of the shipments on the Hanjin Boston. The original plan was to unload these containers at the Port of Oakland.

Once the Hanjin Boston was cleared to dock in Los Angeles, PIBL recommended and secured removal of the containers in Los Angeles rather than stick to the original destination of Oakland. With information provided by industry experts and in communication with port officials, PIBL recognized that the ship might not receive immediate clearance to continue up the coast.

After intensive communications spanning the time zones, and sheer diligence to reach port personnel that could assist with this plan, (which included advance payment of certain fees), PIBL managed to get the containers released in Los Angeles on Friday, one day prior to the event's set-up.

With this event's shipments caught up in the Hanjin crisis, PIBL employed a rapid response to circumvent further delays that were inconceivable just weeks before.

Phil Hobson, President of PIBL, commented, "The Hanjin bankruptcy affected trade shows and events for months. We experienced a very challenging situation working round the clock with our network of agents and port officials to ensure Singapore Day would occur.

"With the particularly time-sensitive nature of Singapore Day, we persevered in getting containers to the site just as the event teams were in place to assemble the exhibits and activities. After making the call to work through the difficulties of unloading in Los Angeles, we were then faced with the chaotic circumstances at the port.

"We needed to constantly communicate with our customer in a different time zone while also communicating with port officials who could assist us during nighttime shifts. We needed to sort through misinformation that was being presented and we needed to act expeditiously to get the containers cleared through Customs, as many requests were being presented to the port at that time for release of Hanjin cargo.

"This was one of the most daunting projects we've faced in recent years, requiring the expertise and determination that has made PIBL an industry leader. In such uncertain circumstances, it pays to have good instincts, decades of knowledge, and unrelenting drive to deliver a positive outcome to our customer.

"The night before the event installation we were in constant contact with the port, finally obtaining the correct containers and all the while keeping drivers standing by for the release. Once the containers were loaded onto the trucks, the drivers took off immediately to San Francisco. It turned out to be a savvy call as it became increasingly clear that the ship would not be moving on to the Port of Oakland in time."

Although PIBL had other exhibition shipments on stranded Hanjin vessels, the Singapore Day shipments created the biggest concern and one of the biggest tests of our resources and abilities.

In 2016 the Hanjin bankruptcy involved 530,000 stranded containers worldwide. As the crisis unfolded, The Port of Oakland would later report containers stacked up to five levels high. Some shipments experienced lengthy delays while others weren't delivered at all. In some cases ships were seized. Insurance claims spiked. But we were relieved that Singapore Day, which attracted thousands of Singaporeans who enjoyed national songs, food and cultural activities, continued as planned with our assistance.