Israel Struggles With Port Delays

The backlog of vessels waiting in Haifa's harbor has reached unusual proportions (image courtesy Manufacturers' Association of Israel)

Published Mar 30, 2022 6:04 PM by The Maritime Executive

As the U.S. struggles with congestion at its biggest container ports, Israel is trying to work through a similar problem for bulkers and freighters. The implications are serious, since many of these vessels are carrying food and industrial goods. 

In recent weeks, up to 80 vessels have been stuck waiting outside the port of Haifa and Ashdod at a time, according to the Manufacturers Association of Israel, and the number could exceed 100 by the time Passover starts in mid-April. The backlog has created problems for Israeli imports of raw materials and merchandise, and Israeli exporters are seeing challenges in getting their goods to market. The association says that the cost of the backlog to Israeli commerce - which is overwhelmingly dependent on seaborne trade - is in the range of $95 million per week. 

The problems are partly caused by procedure, according to Yoram Sebba, ‎president of the Israel Chamber of Shipping. Last year, he told Haaretz that general cargo ships have no set berth schedule at Israeli ports and are queued based on the kind of cargo they carry. If it is a low-priority cargo, and other vessels are ahead in the line, the wait time could be up to a month - with demurrage charges for the charterer every day. 

That priority structure recently changed. Through April 24, vessels carrying livestock, grain and animal feed will have first access to berth space, Israel's transportation ministry announced last week. The government is taking this measure in order to guard against any disruption in the supply of food due to the invasion of Ukraine, which has taken a large share of the world's wheat supply off the market. 

“Taking steps to get the grain and fodder that Israeli agriculture relies on into the country quickly will ensure that we maintain Israeli food security despite the changes around the world,” Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli said in a statement.  

The port backlog has gotten worse lately, but it is not a new development. As far back as last April, Israeli importers and exporters were warning that challenges at the ports were interfering with business operations. 

"Merchandise, products and raw materials aren’t arriving on time, which is undermining Israel’s reputation as an exporter, hurting production and burdening cargo owners,” Israel's Manufacturers Association wrote in a letter to the transportation ministry last April. “The port backup affects the entire business sector and threatens survival of many businesses – importers, exporters, freight forwarders, shipping companies and their agents and trucking companies are all being severely affected.”