Skip to content

When Shipping Containers Are Abandoned, the Cargo Becomes a Mystery Prize

Supply chain carnage creates opportunities for companies willing to take a chance on random goods, from cheese to used cars—and maybe even pumpkin seeds.

Jake Slinn at Pentalver reefer & lashing yard near Felixstowe, U.K.

Jake Slinn at Pentalver reefer & lashing yard near Felixstowe, U.K.

Photographer: Holly-Marie Cato for Bloomberg Businessweek

A mobile crane, its massive gripping arm raised like a scorpion’s tail, rolls up to a multicolored stack of shipping containers at the Pentalver storage yard near Felixstowe, the largest container port in Britain. The machine grabs the top box, backs up with a beep-beep-beep, and sets it down onto the asphalt with a clang. A worker in an orange safety vest kneels and, with a screeching spray of sparks, saws through the numbered steel bolt that seals the latch. The door swings open, and Jake Slinn, a lanky 22-year-old with a buzz cut and thick-rimmed black eyeglasses, steps forward to peer inside.

Slinn is a cargo salvage buyer. His two-man operation, JS Cargo & Freight Disposal, acquires containers filled with abandoned goods that shipping lines want to get rid of. And business is booming in his line of work. Snarls in the global supply chain have left an estimated 3 million containers idling on ships queued up at ports around the world, according to Niels Larsen, president of Air & Sea North America at DSV, a global transport and logistics company.