Immigrant shipments 'held hostage'

Exclusive: During recent port sanctions, ZIM turned back shipments carrying olim's belongings.

By
September 24, 2008 00:22
3 minute read.
shipping biz zim 88 224

Zim cargo 224.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])

 
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Scores of new immigrants who arrived over the past month are being "held hostage" by shipping companies after their shipments were turned away from Israeli ports during recent sanctions by the port workers union, The Jerusalem Post has learned. Not only are they without their personal effects, many of the families have been told by local shipping agents that they will be billed up to $1,000 to pay for their shipments, which were diverted to such places as Italy, Turkey and Cyprus, to be brought to Israel. The strike, from August 25 through September 3, was called by the Histadrut Labor Federation to protest a clause in the draft 2009 economic arrangements bill calling for the privatization of operations at the ports. "We are literally being held hostage by the Zim shipping company," said Yitzhak Meirowitch, who arrived here from Washington, DC, on September 8 with his wife, Leah, and two small children. "We have still not received our shipment or any word of when it will be delivered. We've only been told that we will likely have to pay for it to be brought from Italy to Israel. "It's not fair that we are being charged double for something that was not our fault," he said. "It has made our initial absorption very difficult," he continued. "We have absolutely nothing, every meal we have to eat out and we are sleeping on air mattresses." According to Meirowitch, a computer programmer who now lives in Ma'aleh Adumim, the family had already paid close to $7,000 in the US and an additional NIS 25,000 to the local Israeli shipping agent. This week, he was informed by the agent here that he will probably be charged extra because of the shipping diversion. "There is nothing I can do about it," he lamented. "If we want our things then we will have to pay." For former New Yorker Alisa Berg, her husband Mordechai and their four children, the situation is much the same. "We arrived here four weeks ago and were expecting our shipment to arrive two days later," said Berg, who now lives in Beit Shemesh and came with the Nefesh B'Nefesh aliya organization. "Luckily, we have relatives here who gave us mattresses and a mini-fridge, but I still have to go shopping every day because it doesn't hold enough food for a family of six." Berg added that she had spent the better part of the past month trying to find out where her personal effects had been taken and when they would be brought to Israel. "I know that some things are out of one's control... I tried to plan everything so that there would be the least discomfort to the children, but that has not happened," she said. "Even if the shipment arrives this week, which is what they are now telling us, we will have to go through the haggim [High Holy Days] with nothing." Berg added that she would also likely be charged additional fees by the shipping company. "The most shocking thing is that no one has been able to help us," said Harry Cohen, a returning resident whose shipment is stuck somewhere in Turkey. "A month after all this started I contacted the Immigrant Absorption Ministry and asked them what they were doing about this mess, and no one there was even aware there had even been a port strike. "It's ironic that they want to bring Israelis back for Israel's 60th [anniversary] and to encourage aliya from the West but they can do nothing to help new immigrants stuck in this disturbing situation," he said. A spokeswoman for ZIM Integrated Shipping Services confirmed Tuesday that because of the strike and the fact that ships were diverted to nearby countries, those waiting for their cargo would incur additional costs. "Unloading cargo in other Mediterranean ports was the result of the recent strikes in Haifa and Ashdod, which caused an inability to unload the goods in Israel," ZIM said in a statement. "As a result, there are additional expenses to ship the containers back to Israel. These additional costs are not included in the original freight charges." At the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, a spokeswoman said this was the first time it had heard about the problem but that ministry representatives had already contacted ZIM to see if an alternative arrangement, more sympathetic to new immigrants, could be worked out. "Since being alerted to this problem we are now doing everything we can to try to help these people out, even though ZIM is a private company and can essentially do whatever it wants," she said. Nefesh B'Nefesh, which facilitated the aliya of hundreds of immigrants from North America and Britain this summer, said it was aware of the situation but that it did not have any control over public sector strikes.

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