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Aqaba Seaport still a bottleneck.

By Ghassan Joha, Star Staff Writer This week's reassurance by Minister of Trade and Industry Mohammad Halaiqa to solve the congestion at Aqaba Seaport fell on deaf ears. Businessmen criticized the government's sluggishness in solving the crisis, which first surfaced over a year ago. Halaiqa said the seaport would soon function more efficiently after the installation of new unloading machines in September. Prime Minister Faisal El Fayez's decision to form a special inspection committee to examine the congestion crisis received much acclaim by the concerned shipping companies and businessmen, who saw in the move "a step towards the end."Salim Jadaoun, president of the Clearance Companies Association (CCA), said the premier's decision "must be carried out through concrete steps to improve the function of the current unloading machines and to upgrade the quality of cadres at the seaport."Jadaoun criticized the government for its decision to let the Danish APM Terminals Company handle the issue, saying the CCA has noticed many negative aspects of the company's function on the ground. APM Terminals has been authorized in June to rehabilitate the containers terminal at the port and to outline future plans on how to administer the facilities more efficiently."The Danish company raised storage fees at the containers terminal by three times to about JD 140 per square meter. This has generated many losses for shipping companies and importers, and endangered Aqaba Seaport's worthiness in world markets," Jadaoun explained. "We believe the issue of storage fees is more important than that of congestion fees, since the former directly affects work at the seaport. To solve the problem, the government must begin with the containers terminal crisis."The congestion crisis heightened this summer when many international maritime companies halted their services to Aqaba. Recently, it was reported that some of them rerouted their vessels to other neighboring seaports rather than being congested at Aqaba. Three major international shipping companies: The Singapore-based Pacific International Lines, the American President Lines and the Taiwan-based Evergreen, all agreed this week to cut congestion fees at Aqaba Seaport by 34 percent from $300 to $200 for 20-ft containers and from $600 to $400 for 40-ft containers. The three companies control the shipping lines between Jordan and the Far East.More marine companies are expected to follow suit, as local and Arab companies have already cut the congestion fees earlier this year in a step to lessen the financial losses of their customers. Meanwhile shipping companies operating sea routes to Europe and North America refuse to cut congestion fees, thus facing increasing losses because of their stationary vessels at Aqaba.It is worth mentioning that the international shipping companies decided in June 2003 to impose congestion fees on all containers to recover "Damages caused by the intermittent delays at Aqaba Seaport."On his part, Saoud Al Srour, director general of the General Ports Corporation (GPC), noted that the corporation was able to solve the crisis at the seaport through a series of procedures that helped in reducing congestion by 50 percent early this year. He added that GPC lost control of the containers terminal after the government's agreement with APM Terminals, which "caused frequent problems in the area, manifested in idle loaded ships and inefficient containers terminal." Ibrahim Naouri, chairman of the Naouri Group, expressed his disapproval of the ongoing business at the seaport. "We are dealing now with two managements for the same place. The old national one that faces mounting problems, and the foreign one that seems inexperienced in such issues," he said. "I think the crisis would intensify since the shipping agents and importers are confused over who is eligible to deal with."Naouri pointed out that the government's agreement with the Danish company is to introduce expertise and professional cadres that would solve the crisis and help the seaport's management to run its affairs more professionally. "Instead, the Danish company reemployed the Jordanian cadres. It is totally unacceptable, since this matter would affect the marine transport on the long run," he explained.He predicted the companies that reduced the congestion fees would change their minds soon as long as the problem at the containers terminal remains unsolved. "We see many of the international shipping companies disregard Aqaba Seaport, and prefer to deal with neighboring Arab seaports instead. This forced Jordanian importers to re-transit their cargoes away from Aqaba."The CCA sources, meanwhile, were quoted by the local press this week to say that differences began to emerge since APM Terminals has failed so far in fulfilling its commitments. Recent studies by the Ministry of Trade and Industry warned of the negative impact of the congestion crisis in Aqaba on the economy. Prices of basic foodstuffs and other commodities rose gradually in recent months due to sluggishness in clearing shipments at Aqaba. Salim Khirfan, deputy president of the Amman Chamber of Commerce, said that with delays, foodstuffs become unfit for human consumption. "The congestion crisis in Aqaba causes disruption to the commercial sector in Jordan," Khirfan stressed. "Costs of imports keep rising as long as congestion remains, and this would adversely affect consumers."

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Publication:The Star (Amman, Jordan)
Date:Aug 22, 2004
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