haifa port 298 88 .
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Manufacturers' Association together with the Shipper's Council and the Chamber of Shipping held an emergency conference in Tel Aviv on Thursday to address what they called "a state of anarchy" in Israel's sea ports system.
Roughly a hundred people took part in the conference, held under the slogan "Blockade on the ports - an outrage."
Speakers complained of delays of up to 20 days in which ships are anchored offshore and can't access the ports due to a lack of port personnel and equipment - delays that cost companies millions of shekels in storage fees, late fines and cancelled orders.
The conference also decided to sue the ports over what is said were unjustified storage and congestion fees.
According to Chamber of Shipping president Reuven Zuck, there are 20 ships carrying thousands of containers waiting to enter the port of Haifa and another 11 waiting to dock in Ashdod.
Thursday's conference took place two days after the release of the Tonic Report, commissioned by the Transportation Ministry to investigate operations in Israel's transportation and ports during the Second Lebanon War.
The report found serious flaws in the ports' management, especially Ashdod, which received most of the traffic that couldn't make it to Haifa because of security concerns.
Josi-Ann Rosenbaum, representing Keter Plastic Ltd., said that factories that were unable to export their goods due to port management problems were considering their options for future operations.
"If factories close because they are unable to export their products, the government will have to answer to the unemployed," said Rosenbaum.
Shraga Brosh, president of the Manufacturers' Association, said that the main problem was a lack of personnel. He said that conflicts and bureaucracy at the Ashdod port had prevented the hiring of an authorized 100 additional workers there.
Brosh called on the Transportation Ministry to do whatever it could to find a solution to the crisis.
Thursday's discussion turned angry when frustrated manufacturers accused the ports' general managers of unwillingness or inability to provide the necessary services.
For their part, Haifa and Ashdod port managers Amos Chozni and Shuki Sagis complained about long-standing problems in infrastructure, labor agreements and management procedures that, they said, prevented them from remedying the situation.
The Ashdod Port management issued a statement addressing Brosh's allegations. "Populist thundering can't replace facts," the management said, adding that the hiring of 90-100 new employees was expected to be completed within two months.
The port management also said that the issue of fees was "significant," and directly affected the port's plans to invest some NIS 700m. in infrastructure and personnel.
Conference participants also called for a publicity campaign to inform the public of the shipping industry's dire situation.
"The importance of this gathering is for all the organizations that work in and around the ports to unite and say in one strong voice: 'We've had enough, the ports are not functioning and not providing us with the services that we need,'" said Zuck.
Transportation Ministry Director-General Gideon Sitterman was also present at the conference, and he agreed to call an emergency meeting in which he would present manufacturers' and shippers' complaints to Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz. "Mofaz carries sole responsibility for what is happening. If he can't solve matters with the ports he should resign," said Haifa Chamber of Commerce President Oded Feller.