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General view of Ashdod port, Israel October 23, 2023.

General view of Ashdod port, Israel October 23, 2023. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Israel’s Ashdod Port Toils Under Shadow of Rockets

Reuters
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October 25, 2023
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ASHDOD, Israel, Oct 25 (Reuters) – When wailing sirens warn of incoming rockets from Gaza, workers at Israel’s Port of Ashdod stop operations within moments and quickly resume their work minutes later when the all clear is given.

It’s an unusual way for a port to keep operational but it has become the only means to keep supply lines moving in time of war.

Israel has vowed to annihilate the Hamas militant group after its fighters stormed through Israeli towns from Gaza on Oct. 7, killing 1,400 people and seizing more than 220 hostages in the worst attack on civilians in Israel’s history.

A combination of practice drills, protective shelters and an Iron Dome air defense battery nearby have meant the government-owned port, which is 40 km (30 miles) from Gaza, can minimize any supply chain disruptions amid concerns over tightening supplies for the home front.

The entire port is dotted with protective shelters and the waiting time for staff under protection is around 10 minutes to ensure that even after a rocket falls there is no risk of falling shrapnel, port foreman Yigal Ben Kalifa told Reuters.

“After that, everyone gets back to work,” he said looking on as ships unloaded.

“The Port of Ashdod is the artery of Israel’s economy and we are doing everything to ensure this won’t be damaged.”

While the port, which accounts for 40% of Israel’s total seabourne trade including imports and exports, has not had any direct rocket strikes so far it has taken an economic hit in recent weeks.

Last week, one of the first force majeures was declared on a shipment to Ashdod, with the vessel and cargo diverted to Haifa.

At least 20 ships have opted to divert from Ashdod to the northern Israeli port of Haifa in recent weeks, and the port has seen a 30% drop in volume week-on-week, said Shaul Schneider, chairman of the Port of Ashdod’s board of directors.

“We believe that in a couple of weeks it will change and we’ll get back to normal,” he said, adding that they were talking to shipping companies and importers to reassure them.

“We’re continuing to function under fire,” he said.

“We have an Iron Dome that sits not far away … and it protects the city, the harbor, and hopefully the ships as well.”

Schneider said that if there was an escalation around Israel’s northern border, the government had contingency plans for Ashdod to take on more trade from Haifa if needed.

Over 7,600 rockets have been fired towards Israel since Oct. 7 out of Gaza, according to Israeli government data, while there have been repeated clashes along the northern border.

Tens of rockets had targeted Ashdod, Arieh Itach, security officer with Ashdod municipality, said, declining to provide more details.

“Our population is trained and knows what do to … but when rockets hit, we have to deal with this with speed, evacuate the wounded and deal with any damage.”

“COLLATERAL DAMAGE”

The smaller port of Ashkelon, which is the closest to Gaza, has shut for the moment due to the situation. Ashdod and Haifa are the country’s biggest ports.

Robert Peters, with British maritime security company Ambrey, said it was advising clients that vessels can call at Ashdod.

“We would advise that vessels wait further offshore than ordinarily given the risk of collateral damage at sea,” he said.

“So far, we have not seen any merchant vessels damaged while in the port, which we are assessing is likely due to Iron Dome,” he said.

The dwell time for imports into Ashdod, which measure the amount of days a container takes to discharge, dropped to 1.8 days by Oct. 17 versus 3.4 days in September, according to analysis from supply chain platform project44.

War risk insurance rates have soared more than 10-fold in recent days to Israeli ports.

Insurance premiums are expected to remain high until a formal ceasefire is brokered, British maritime risk advisory and security company Dryad Global added.

“Despite a slowdown in Hamas’ rocket strikes, the risk of collateral damage to Israeli port infrastructure remains substantial,” said Noah Trowbridge of Dryad Global.

(Reporting by Jonathan Saul, Ammar Awad and Rami Amichay; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023.

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