Net profits at the Ashdod Port Company rose 20 percent in 2006 to NIS 98 million, boosted by the entry of new international customers and routes. "The 2006 results turn the Ashdod port into the leading port in Israel," said Iris Stark, chairman of the Ashdod Port Company. "Cutting the waiting times at the port and the cancellation of the congestion charge helped to bring in new international customers bringing the Ashdod port onto the important routes between the Far East and the US on direct routes, which were not there before." Revenues in the ten-and-a-half month fiscal year, increased by 15% to over NIS 1b. compared with NIS 776m. in 2005. Stark and CEO Shuki Sagis commented that user fees for port properties had risen to NIS 281m. in 2006 compared with NIS 168m in the previous year. The company expects user fees to reach NIS 323m. in 2007 and NIS NIS 347m. in 2008. "This is clearly far too high also when compared to international standards. I demand that user fees to be cut by 50%," said Stark. "Without a reform over user fees, we see the port company's financial strength undermined." Sagis added that port company will invest NIS 136m. in 2007 for development, in addition to the investment infrastructure budget of NIS 700m. allocated for the next five years. Meanwhile, commenting on last week's strike action at the Ashdod port, Sagis said the company was continuing talks with the workers and was handling five work disputes. "It is sad that we needed to come this far. It was unnecessary but I am confident that we will get over it," said Sagis.