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How One Artist Ended Up Stranded on a Bankrupt Company’s Cargo Ship

As the boat circles 25 miles off the coast of Japan, 25-year-old Rebecca Moss is documenting the global shipping crisis on Instagram.

by Hilary Beaumont
Sep 12 2016, 7:15pm

View from the stranded Hanjin Geneva. Photo via Instagram

A British artist completing a Vancouver gallery residency is stuck aboard a mammoth container ship off the coast of Japan.

For almost two weeks, Rebecca Moss and the ship's crew have been stranded onboard the giant boat, which is slowly circling about 25 miles offshore, after its South Korean owner, Hajin Shipping Company, filed for bankruptcy protection.

The company, the seventh-largest shipping company in the world, is drowning in debt, and ports around the world aren't allowing its ships to dock because the company can't pay the fees associated with docking, storage, and unloading its cargo.

As of last Monday, the company said 73 of its container ships, holding upward of $14 billion in cargo and countless crew members, were stranded at sea around the world.

Moss boarded the Hanjin Geneva destined for Shanghai for Access Gallery's 23 Days at Sea residency, in which artists are placed onboard container ships.

That's how the 25-year-old artist found herself in the middle of a story about a global shipping crisis.

"Still waiting on the Hanjin Geneva. Another week of inactivity and absence of communication?" she tweeted on Sunday.

"'Stranded' implies that this inaction is an accident, we are deliberately being kept here by Hanjin Shipping," she tweeted on September 10.

"Still waiting on Hanjin Geneva without an end-point to this madness," she tweeted on September 9.

"Captain and crew working extremely hard on Hanjin Geneva, I wonder how long we will be made to float here," she tweeted on September 7.

Photo via Instagram

"We are in close communication with Moss; she and the crew are safe, and the captain is currently working to secure a port for their vessel," the gallery's director, Kimberly Phillips, wrote in a statement.

Most of the media has emphasized that Moss is stranded at sea, but Phillips tells VICE News, "She's perfectly fine—she's just witnessing a global financial event." The gallery director said the German ship is stocked with a month's worth of food and water, so Moss has been eating well—mostly sausages.

Phillips said the gallery is in touch with the British consulate, but the consulate has said this isn't an emergency since no one's life is at immediate risk, though they continue to monitor the situation. Moss signed a contract that included the possibility of delays, and she wasn't scheduled to arrive in Shanghai until September 14, the director said.

"I can't begin to describe how it feels to look out the window and see a huge stack of containers, surrounded by miles of ocean in every direction, and realize they actually don't have a destination," Moss wrote in an email to Phillips on Wednesday. "All the labor, the scale of this operation, just feels even more completely insane now."

"She's very interested in how humans insert themselves into the natural environment and so in a sense, being on a huge ship, which doesn't have a port, which is filled with cargo that can't go anywhere, is kind of comedic in a wry kind of way," Phillips said. "This situation allows her to explore some of those themes, which she was going to do anyway."

According to her bio on the gallery's website, the London-based artist is focused on comedy and "stages interventions, stunts, experiments, and games within the landscape to create slapstick scenarios that the artist feels to have emotional and political potential."

VICE News was unable to reach Moss for comment.

Hanjin's financial issues were caused by an oversupply of ships and a lack of cargo, but there is hope in sight now that some of the company's ships have been allowed to dock in the US.

Last week, a US judge granted Hanjin temporary protection from asset seizures after the company's lawyers said a South Korean court had approved the release of $10 million to unload four ships, the Associated Press reported. The Hanjin Greece unloaded its containers in Long Beach, California, over the weekend, with three more ships expected to do the same, according to the Wall Street Journal.

According to Bloomberg News, the company is seeking stay orders from judges in 43 countries, so more of its boats won't be seized.

Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter.

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