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Houthi Attacks Force Port of Eilat to Lay Off Half its Staff

Port of Eilat in better times, with a full lot of imported cars (Adiel Io / CC BY SA 3.0)
Port of Eilat in better times, with a full lot of imported cars (Adiel Io / CC BY SA 3.0)

Published Mar 21, 2024 9:29 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping have disrupted cargo traffic between Europe and Asia, increasing shipping times, costs and fuel consumption. This has forced port operators to adapt to altered schedules. For the Red Sea port of Eilat, Israel, the disruption has been much more severe: its operator is laying off half of its workforce because of a sharp drop in business. 

On Wednesday, Israel's Histadrut Labor Federation said that the managers of Port of Eilat intend to lay off 60 out of 120 employees. “The port management is trying to take advantage of the war situation and harm the livelihood of dedicated workers in the southern periphery," asserted Nir Eisenberg, head of the maritime transport workers' division of Histadrut. 

Port of Eilat has lost no less than 85 percent of its traffic since the Houthi campaign against Western shipping began. Houthi forces have pledged to attack Israel-bound ships in the Red Sea, and Eilat can only be accessed from the east through the Red Sea. Vessels arriving from the west can also call at Israel's Mediterranean ports, without paying Suez Canal fees to reach Eilat. 

Accordingly, ro/ro imports have plummeted. Eilat handles eastern car imports for the Israeli market, and last year it brought in 150,000 cars via the Red Sea route. So far this year, the number is zero, according to Israeli business outlet Calcalist.

Eilat Port CEO Gideon Golber told Middle East Monitor that if the Israeli government did not step in to pay all salaries, the enterprise would have no choice but to impose layoffs. "I hoped the coalition countries would have solved the [maritime security] issue in a few months, but they are not solving the problem," he said. 

Eilat is also within missile range of Houthi forces, and has come under attack directly. On Sunday, a Houthi cruise missile penetrated Israeli missile defense systems and struck north of Eilat, causing no serious damage. The Israeli Defense Forces confirmed the attack and said in a statement that it is investigating why the missile was not shot down. 

On Thursday, Israeli air defenses shot down a suspicious aerial target off the coast of Eilat, before it could reach shore. 

Top image: Courtesy Adiel Io / CC BY SA 3.0