State Must Shoulder Huge Ashdod Port Costs for Docking, Unloading Flotilla Ships

The state will pay the Ashdod port hundreds of thousands of shekels for the docking and unloading of the foreign Gaza-bound flotilla vessels that were brought there almost two weeks ago.

Israeli soldiers in front of one of the Gaza-bound ships at the port of Ashdod on June 1

Mooring the boats in Ashdod's port has hampered its activity and led to postponing a French frigate's visit scheduled this week.

Eight of the nine ships towed to Ashdod are still there, while the Mavi Marmara was taken to Haifa Port. The Defense establishment yet to decide what to do with it. Since the Turkish-flagged ship belongs to the IHH, which Israel sees as a terror organization, it is doubtful whether it will be returned to Turkey anytime soon, an official told Haaretz.

"There was a big problem unloading the ships' cargo, the equipment was strewn all over the ship," a port employee who took part in handling the cargo said. "The ships will be removed soon," he said.

The cargo on the ships included infusions, toys, wheelchairs, cement and dozens of types of screws. "Soon the work will be complete and the ships will be returned to the countries they came from," the employee said.

"Unlike other cargo ships docking in the port, whose cargo is is concentrated in one place, the flotilla ships' cargo was in a mess and the work is taking longer and costing more," he added.

In the past the defense establishment expropriated boats that smuggled weapons to the Palestinians. The defense ministry tried to sell the Karin A, which was seized at the beginning of 2002, but no buyers were found and it was sent to India for dismantling. The Francop, which carried weapons to Hezbollah, was returned to a German shipping company after the weapons were unloaded in Ashdod, because the company had not been aware that Iran was using it to carry arms.

The French embassy in Israel said the French frigate's visit had not been put off because of the political situation but due to technical difficulties in the Ashdod port.

The Defense Ministry commented that the cost of the ships' docking in Ashdod is under negotiations between the ministry and the Ashdod Port.