Ports and Railways Slammed Over Wartime Operations

Functional failures, rocky relations among the different transport organizations and a lack of comprehensive coordination comprise the grim situation described by a public inquiry committee on the operation of transport and port systems during the Second Lebanon War.

The committee, headed by attorney Yehuda Tunik, was established after the war by Transportation Ministry Director General Gideon Siterman. While it submitted findings and recommendations on the transportation sector as a whole, it focused mainly on failures by the ports.

As reported earlier this week by TheMarker, the committee sharply criticized the functioning of Haifa and Ashdod Ports during the war. However, the full report also paints a grim picture of the functioning of all bodies involved with port activities. In particular, it sharply criticizing the poor relations between the individual port companies and the Israel Ports Company and between port workers and management.

The committee also had harsh words for the Home Front Command, Melach (the Defense Ministry's "emergency economy" division) and Israel Railways. In addition, it directed veiled criticism at senior officials of the Ministry of Transportation, emphasizing the absence of a central entity with the authority and responsibility for coordinating the activities of the various transport organizations.

The report emphasized the existence of failures that were revealed (but not created) by the war and the lack of clear work procedures during states of emergency. It refrained from assigning personal responsibility of office holders, but recommended that two of its findings be reviewed by the state comptroller: the surrender by Ashdod Port's management to pressure from its workers' committee in negotiations over employment agreements in wartime, and Israel Railways' decision to suspend the operation of freight trains to Haifa Port during most of the war.

The committee also criticized the government's decision not to declare a state of emergency. Instead, it declared a "state of emergency on the home front" - a declaration with no practical meaning.

The Ashdod Port Company responded that "negotiations with the operations sector began before the war and ended during this period, in the framework of normal business activities and the ongoing management of the port. The agreement has withstood the test of economic feasibility for the company and has resulted in improved productivity and customer service."

The management of Israel Railways said that "in all matters relating to the operation of passenger and freight trains, the company operated according to the instructions of the Home Front Command and authorizations received from the Home Front Command and the Ministry of Transportation."

Manufacturers Association President Shraga Brosh called on Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz yesterday to intervene personally in order to put an end to what he described as the "scandal of the seaports."

In his letter to the minister, Brosh said that dysfunction at the ports results in many vessels being forced to wait for 8 to 14 days outside the ports. "Some ships leave the ports without unloading their cargo. As a result, raw material for industry and the business sector is not reaching its destination," he wrote.

The delays, he said, are due to the ports' inefficiency and low productivity, and add $15 million in costs to port customers.

Brosh charged in his letter that "the Ministry of Transportation is unaware and not in control of the situation in the ports." He added: "The reform of the ports, which was implemented two years ago for the purpose of making operations more efficient, is bankrupt. Other than a bit of extra money being distributed to a few public personalities in the ports, nothing is happening, and the anarchy continues."

Both the Ashdod and Haifa port companies rejected these accusations, saying that the problems stem from the ports' lack of sufficient capacity, and that this is being addressed.