Eilat port - Mori Chen
Eilat is the port through which most of Israel’s car imports arrive. Photo by Mori Chen
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An Israeli delegation of top officials has secretly flown to Europe to hold pre-marketing presentations on privatizing the Red Sea port in Eilat.

The delegation will be dwelling on the general guidelines for the port's privatization and hear opinions from global port operating companies about the best way to sell the government company. While about it, the officials will be seeking signs that the multinationals are interested in contending when a tender is published.

Among the delegation participants are Israel Ports Development & Assets Company CEO Shlomo Brieman, Government Companies Authority senior deputy director Meir Shamra, and the head of the maritime administration at the Transport Ministry, Yigal Maor.

Among other destinations, the delegation is visiting the Rotterdam Port in the Netherlands, where it will be meeting with people from the global ports and terminals operating company APM Terminals. APM is a sister company of Danish shipping giant Maersk Line. It already runs the port next to Eilat, in Aqaba, Jordan.

After Rotterdam, the delegation will be continuing to Hamburg, Germany, where meetings will be held with people from the ports operation and shipping company HHLA (Hamburger Hafen und Logistik ).

The ministerial privatization committee is scheduled to discuss the privatization of Eilat Port before the end of the week. But the discussion is premature, in the sense that the ministries of transport and finance have not decided on a method yet. The ministerial committee will therefore be shown two options, but the decision which to adopt will be made only later.

The possibilities boil down to the state keeping the port but letting somebody else run it, or selling it outright. The first possibility would evidently involve selling a 15-year concession to run the port, with a 10-year extension option.

In discussions held between the Histadrut labor federation and government officials in 2005, the only option discussed had been outright sale. Change in the manner of privatization could cause the port workers to demand new negotiations, though their status in the future port company remains unclear at this stage.

Another development complicating matters is the government resolution to build a train system linking Eilat to the rest of Israel. The system would carry cargo and passengers, too. Investment in building the track would be immense and the Eilat Port company, whomever owns it, would be required to cooperate, even if the scheme is for the very distant future.