Christmas shoppers and Korean correspondents were among the likely victims of the collapse of South Korean container shipper Hanjin Shipping.
Hanjin, which filed for court receivership on August 31, was no minor industry player; industry data provider Alphaliner placed Hanjin at the seventh largest globally, with 98 ships and a 2.9 per cent market share. That compared with the largest, APM-Maersk, with around 622 ships and a 15.4 per cent market share.
Banks stopped providing financial support to Hanjin, which has been bleeding red ink, last week. That spurred the shipping line to file for court receivership on August 31. As a result, as many as 66 of Hanjin's container ships were denied access to ports around the world and at least one ship was seized, according to media reports.
Hanjin Shipping's lead creditor bank, Korea Development Bank, balked on Wednesday at a South Korean court request to provide the shipper with additional funds to resolve issues with an estimated US$14 billion (S$18.86 billion) worth of stranded cargo, amid expectations the company would likely end up being liquidated, Reuters reported.
Hanjin's parent company, Hanjin Group, planned to raise around US$90 million to help cover the cost of unloading cargo, but the court said the amount was inadequate and that it wasn't clear when that plan would be executed, the report said.
That has left a lot of uncertainty over how long Hanjin's ships will sit idle.
It might be too early to know yet what this Christmas' "it" toy will be, but there's a good chance that Hanjin's standstill means it might be even more scarce than usual this year. Analysts at Citigroup said that toys were likely to be the product most impacted as retailers awaited their shipments of Christmas goodies.
In a research note on Tuesday, Citi analysts said "softlines," or retail inventory that doesn't usually come in a box, such as linens or personal items such as gloves, were also likely to be impacted, although department stores appeared to have been reducing their exposure to Hanjin over the past few months.
But they added, "There may be some exposure for branded goods that the department stores purchase as they are unsure at this point which of their vendors may use Hanjin."
Companies, particularly those relying directly on Hanjin to move their goods, may see some pressure on their gross margins as shipping prices between Asia and the US rose as much as 40-50 per cent in the wake of the bankruptcy protection filing, Citigroup noted.
But some companies may not yet be aware if they're exposed to Hanjin. Because the shipping line was part of an alliance of shippers, it may have been carrying cargo that was sent on another carrier.
Philip Damas, a director at Drewry, an independent maritime advisor, told CNBC that Hanjin's filing meant there was "a bit of chaos" ahead legally and operationally as exporters and importers tried to figure out where their cargos and products were.
Delivery of many products would likely be delayed and some retailers would be badly affected by a shortage of inventory as ports refused to release cargo from Hanjin ships unless they were paid, he said.
Citigroup was less concerned about this possibility. The bank's analysts said Hanjin Shipping's parent was trying to raise funds to unload the cargo from its ships and retailers still had enough time to back-fill the products stuck on the shipping line's vessels, making holiday inventory shortfalls unlikely.
Tech players may take a hit, however. Samsung Electronics said its television and appliance businesses had around US$38 million worth of parts and finished products stuck aboard two Hanjin ships, and that it may need to charter at least 16 planes to move the cargo, costing at leastUS $8.8 million, Reuters reported on Wednesday.
The check is in that mail
South Korea's snail-mail users were also in for some anxiety. Korea Post has had a long term contract with Hanjin Shipping to send letters and parcels overseas.
Korea Post halted all packages through the shipper after it filed for receivership, including those heading to the US, Germany, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and 14 other countries.
But there was bigger worry: Many packages posted before Korea Post stopped accepting packages are stuck in port in South Korea's Busan, or potentially on ships stalled in foreign ports.
No port in storm for workers
Meanwhile, Hanjin's sailors could take the worst hit from the shipper's troubles. Media reports have said some ships, which can have crews as large as 25 on board, were running low on food, water and other supplies amid uncertainty over how long staff would need to wait for legal resolution.
South Korean media said as many as a thousand crew members - both Hanjin employees and temporary workers - could be stranded on the ships. In addition to being at sea indefinitely, sailors could also face difficulties collecting their wages, local media reports noted.
Confidence in the system may be another casualty.
Drewry's Damas noted that there had been an assumption that major container-ship owners would always find a way to survive, even if a government needed to step in to save them with a bailout. South Korea's decision not to had rocked that assumption, he said.
"Now, there's a much higher risk for all buyers of shipping services," he said. "Importers and exporters have to confront a new market with fewer ocean carriers. The carriers are not as financially stable and there's uncertainty on their reliability."
Damas noted that while the initial spike in shipping rates was unlikely to be sustainable, one less player in the market meant freight costs ahead may remain higher than before Hanjin's filing.
-Additional reporting by June Yoon.