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MISRATA, Libya, Dec 26 (Reuters) – Container unloading at Libya’s Misrata port has hit record levels this year and the major shipping gateway is expanding, a local official said, in a rare success story in the troubled North African country.
Libya’s third-biggest city, some 200 km (124 miles) east of the capital Tripoli, has benefited from better security conditions than other parts of the OPEC producer, which has been hit by turmoil since the 2011 toppling of Muammar Gaddafi.
Misrata saw some of the worst fighting during the NATO-backed uprising. But it now rarely sees the kind of clashes of armed groups that occur regularly in the eastern port city of Benghazi and sometimes in Tripoli.
This year, Misrata’s non-oil port has unloaded 208,339 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of containers, up from 159,634 last year, said Mohammed El-Swayah, marketing and cooperation manager at the Misrata Free Zone Co., part of the port.
“This is a record figure,” he told Reuters. Misrata was benefiting from its geographic position in central Libya, stability and a long tradition as Mediterranean trade center.
“Many traders from Tripoli use Misrata port,” he said, adding that the port city also had an expansion plan to become a transit point for goods arriving from abroad and continuing on to sub-Saharan countries.
In 2010, the year before the violent uprising brought economic activity in Libya to a standstill, Misrata unloaded 130,779 TEUs, he said.
Swayah said Misrata has been handling 55 to 60 percent of the cargo in Libyan ports, and he said the harbour’s quays were currently being expanded. Other large non-oil ports in Libya are Tripoli, Khoms and Benghazi.
The growth of business at Misrata contrasts sharply with the fate of the country’s oil ports. Libya relies on oil for government revenues, but militias and tribesmen have often seized the major oil ports and fields, slashing the country’s crude exports to around 110,000 barrels a day from a potential 1 million bpd or more.
The militias helped oust Gaddafi, but they have kept their weapons to press for political and financial demands, and the government has struggled to rein them in. On Thursday, armed militiamen blocked the port entrance at Tripoli and demanded the resignation of the prime minister.
Analysts say that apart from better security, Misrata port benefits from a free trade zone offering special benefits for investors such as exemptions from taxes and duties.
Swayah said 18 companies had invested in the local free trade zone. “We have requests from 50 other firms which are being studied,” he said during a visit to the free trade zone, which is also being expanded.
Many foreign firms who used to be active in Libya before the uprising have been reluctant to return due to the volatile security situation.
But Swayah said both foreign and local firms were now considering investing there, although he declined to name any of them.
“Since the revolution we’ve had requests (to invest) from Italian and other firms,” he said. (Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Hugh Lawson)
(c) 2013 Thomson Reuters, All Rights Reserved, image (c) shutterstock/qingqing
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