U.S. Bankruptcy Judge John Sherwood, who issued an order barring seizure of Hanjin property by creditors, acknowledged that some details remained unresolved and urged the parties to "self-help" and work out problems among themselves.
That could prove thorny. Hanjin has identified 14 U.S.-bound ships in bankruptcy filings, including the Hanjin Greece and two other vessels currently near the Southern California coast.
Port operators, cargo owners, longshoremen, shippers and others all must reach financial agreements with Hanjin before each ship can be docked, officials said.
Terminal operators could be reluctant to allow Hanjin ships to dock without assurances they would leave promptly, said Robert Krieger, president of Krieger Worldwide, a customs broker and freight forwarder headquartered in Carson, California.
"The money is in place to pay for [unloading] as far as I can tell," Krieger said. "The question is, once that happens, what happens next? Because the terminal operators don't want the ships to stay there."
Among other issues raised in court but not fully resolved was what to do with Hanjin containers that are piling up at ports and with retailers.
Some retailers are stuck with empty containers they cannot return to port, said Jonathan Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation.
The containers are tying up equipment needed to handle loaded containers, he said.
"Also, the shipper and retailer get charged for not returning the equipment on time, and they cannot return it because the ports wouldn't accept it," Gold said. "This is just a completely chaotic situation."
Union officials said the docking situation seemed to change hourly over the last week, with conflicting reports about where ships might be headed.
"It's been a really, really fluid situation where it's very hard to get info about it," said Barbara Maynard, a spokeswoman for Justice for Port Drivers, a union organizing effort by the Teamsters' Port Division.