Shipping companies and other clients using the Ashdod port have saved a total of NIS 80 million to NIS 100m. since the implementation of the reform of Israel's port system in mid-February, Ashdod Port Company chairwoman Iris Stark said Tuesday. "And as for those who want to argue with the success of the reform, let him deal with the results. We have proven, working together with the port workers, that it is possible to make the work more efficient and achieve a significant monetary savings for you," she told the port clients gathered at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds. She attributed the savings to a significant reduction in the time ships wait for handling, as well as the Europe Mediterranean Trade Agreement's (EMTA) decision to cut its congestion surcharge in half, to 3.5 percent of platform fees from 7%, effective November 1. The EMTA decided in April 2002 to place a uniform 7% surcharge on goods shipped to compensate shipping companies for the long waiting times encountered at the port. The partial cancellation of this surcharge alone will save port clients NIS 50m. annually, Stark said. Ashdod Port Company CEO Shuki Sagis reiterated the company's aim of "completely eliminating the congestion surcharge, in light of the improvement in service, reduction of waiting times and compliance with output targets at the port." The average waiting time has been reduced more than 45% so far, from 15.3 hours before the reform, and will likely be cut to 6 hours by the end of 2005, Sagis estimated. In the wake of the reform and subsequent development, the port of Ashkelon added more than 100 jobs, bringing the total to 1,200 employees, and further hirings would likely occur in the near future, Sagis said. Improvements since the reform led to Ashdod's inclusion on a list of select ports stretching from China to North America, Stark said. After coming through the Suez Canal, ships travelling along the AMAX line of trade ports can now stop to load and unload goods in Israel on their way. To bring down costs further, Stark said she would submit a proposal for reforming the ports' tariff systems for the approval of the Finance and Transportation Ministers in February 2006. Sagis added that a train line linking to the Ashdod port must be built urgently. The Ashdod Port Company is also investing to deepen the port's basin, he said. In a NIS 35m. project, the basin will first be dug to a depth of 14 m. by March 2006, allowing ships carrying 5,000 containers to dock, and by September the basin will be 15.5 m. deep, allowing the largest vessels in the Mediterranean - capable of carrying 7,000 containers - to load and unload their charges at the facility.