Shippers, Exporters Take Ports to Court Over Service Policy

Frustrated shippers have taken the Ports Authority to the High Court over its decision to implement a directed "preferred line policy" that favors container ships above others. The 12 companies petitioning the decision claim that the policy discriminates against at least half of the port users, and calls for a straightforward "first come first served" policy at the state-owned ports. Among the petitioners are shipping companies and major exporters including the Dead Sea Works and Haifa Chemicals, while the list of respondents included the Ports and Railways Authority, Transportation Minister Ephraim Sneh as well as shipping companies that benefit from the new arrangement, such as Zim and Grimaldi.

The petitioners claim that the discriminatory policy has been in force since 1999 and has caused heavy financial losses and delays to many companies. They dispute the Ports Authority's contention that the container ships are given "preferred status" because they are more modern, capacious and faster.

The claimants' attorney pointed out that while a container ship's cargo turnover was an average 19,000 tons per day, a non-preferred fuel tanker could manage 48,000 tons a day. The claimants also dismissed the ports' proposal that they convert to container ships as impractical, particularly for fuel and chemicals.

The petitioners claimed that the "preferred line policy" had come about through pressure from interested parties, pointing out that one of the respondents (Zim shippers) had two representatives on the Ports Authority at the time that the policy was decided. "Its corporate interests would clearly be served if its competitors suffered damages in the millions of dollars," said their attorney.

"If such a change in policy added to the working capacity of the ports, then why have other countries not latched onto such an original 'scheme.' How odd that nations with marine traditions far stronger than Israel's - such as Britain, the Scandinavia countries and the U.S. - have not found it right to adopt such a 'scheme,'" the attorney said.