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Korea’s Maritime Transport Industry Floundering under Prolonged Slump
Lingering Impact from Hanjin Shipping’s Bankruptcy
Korea’s Maritime Transport Industry Floundering under Prolonged Slump
  • By Michael Herh
  • November 22, 2018, 10:50
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Hyundai Merchant Marine (HMM) has been in the red for 14 consecutive quarters despite the government’s massive support for it.

Despite a boom in the Korean transportation sector, sales of the Korean maritime transport industry plunged more than 10% in 2017. The industry has suffered a setback for five consecutive years since 2013. The Korean maritime transport industry’s cargo volume plummeted sharply as Hanjin Shipping, the nation's No. 1 and the world’s seventh largest shipping company, finally went under in February of last year.

The Korean government’s support has not worked. Hyundai Merchant Marine (HMM) which is Korea’s only national flag oceangoing shipping company, has been in the red for 14 consecutive quarters despite trillions of won support from the government, and SK Shipping was sold off to a private equity fund, showing that the Korean shipping industry is not out of the woods yet.

According to a report released by Statistics Korea on Nov. 21, sales of the Korean maritime transportation industry last year hit 27.146 trillion won, down by 3.737 trillion won (12.0%) from 31.155 trillion won in 2016. In 2012, the figure stood at 44.986 trillion won.

Sales of the Korean transport industry as a whole increased by one trillion won (0.7%) to 142.2 trillion won last year, growing for three years running from 2014.

Excluding maritime transportation, all other segments enjoyed sales growth, including the warehouse and transportation-related services (7.3%), air transportation (4.2%) and land transportation (3.1%).

At the same time, the number of companies engaged in maritime transport shrank 8.0% (53) and the number of employees contracted 14.7% (4,000).

The bankruptcy of Hanjin Shipping brought about a chain of effects on its partners and small and medium-sized shipping and logistics companies. Last year, the Korea logistics industry’s sales fell 0.7% year on year to 85.8 trillion won due to the sluggish performances of maritime transportation companies. The number of logistics companies plunged from 514 to 466 and the number of their employees from 25,489 to 21,830.

After the bankruptcy of Hanjin Shipping, the market share of domestic shipping companies has been on the decline. According to the Busan ​​Port Authority, the amount of cargoes handled by foreign shipping companies jumped 9.5%, while that of Korean shippers slid 0.9% in Busan during the period from March last year to February this year. As a result, the proportion of foreign shipping companies in the total volume of Busan Port expanded from 63% to 65%, while that of Korean shipping firms slid from 37% to 35%.

Last year, HMM's share in North American routes stayed at 5.47%. The share of Hanjin Shipping and HMM stood at 11.9% in 2015 before the bankruptcy of Hanjin Shipping. HMM's share was 4.7% in 2016, which means that most of Hanjin’s share went to foreign shipping companies.