Israel Awards Ashdod Initial Approval for Badly Needed Second Port

Another Israeli city, Haifa, is also due to receive a second container port to increase competition in the industry.

The National Planning and Building Council has given preliminary approval for the construction of a second container port in Ashdod, a move designed to increase competition in the sector.

The new port, which received preliminary approval on Tuesday, is estimated to cost NIS 4 billion. It will be run by a private company.

The port will feature one dock 1,100 meters long and another about half that length, letting the port unload some of the largest container ships in the world with capacities reaching 18,000 containers. The current breakwater to protect the port from waves is to be extended by 600 meters.

About three months ago the council also approved plans for a second port in Haifa. The plans for the ports were crafted by the Israel Ports Development and Assets Co., a state-owned firm that also issues tenders for building ports.

In 2007 the cabinet decided that Israel needed more ports to increase competition.The finance and transportation ministers were due to decide in 2009 which new port would be built first, but no decision was made. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now forming a new government after the January election, so it is not clear who the next finance and transportation ministers will be.

The Trajtenberg committee, which was set up following the cost-of-living protests in 2011, called for the approval process to be stepped up. It suggested that planning procedures for the ports be concluded by the end of 2012.

The prospect of greater competition has triggered strong opposition from organized labor. In a recent interview with TheMarker, Avinoam Shoshan, the head stevedore at Ashdod, said he had no objection to the new port being run by a private company, but he demanded that the workers be part of the same workers' committee that operates at the existing Ashdod port.

Such a move, however, would probably squelch competition among ports. In the interim, Israel Ports has launched a prequalification round for bids on a port terminal to be designated.

Outgoing Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz welcomed Tuesday's decision, saying 2013 would be the "year of competition" among the ports. Israel Ports CEO Shlomo Brieman said the industry's giant container ships and Israel's burgeoning foreign trade meant the new Ashdod port was clearly a priority. He expected that Israel would need the new container port by 2018.

Ilya Melnikov