15 Ocak 2012 Pazar

Gov’t urges firm to push harbor construction to bypass Syria

Gökhan Kurtaran

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News gokhan.kurtaran@hurriyet.com.tr

The İskender Harbor is set to become operational in four to six months tine and will facilitate Turkey’s goal to become an export gate to the Middle East

İskenderun Harbor, one of Turkey’s primary gates to Middle East export markets, will start operating in four to six months following government requests to expedite upgrades to the site, according to an executive of the holding operating the port.

“We are trying to make it ready to ship containers as soon as possible due to the regional problems [impeding] the country’s trade with Gulf countries and the Middle East,” Serdar Bacaksız, a board member at Limak Holding, which won a tender to operate the port in the southern province of Hatay for 36 years, recently told the Hürriyet Daily News. 

The harbor currently has no capacity to handle ship containers, but the Turkish government has asked Limak to accelerate the construction process to increase the capacity of the port so as to assume a greater regional role, he said. 

“İskenderun is rapidly growing with its own economy and steel plants [as] increasing numbers of local and international companies in the region export products to the Middle East market,” he said. 

“The harbor will start operating in four to six months’ time,” Bacaksız said, adding that the company would invest nearly $350 million for the development of the harbor’s infrastructure. 

The company took over the port’s assets and liabilities from the Turkish government Dec. 30. On the same day, the company paid $372 million after obtaining a $425 million loan. The Ankara-based company, which also has construction, energy and airport interests, received loans from six banks for the acquisition, according to a written statement from the holding.

Bacaksız said the harbor’s container capacity would be increased to 150,000 20-foot equivalents (TEUs) within four to six months and added that the total container capacity of the harbor would reach 1.3 million TEUs within a few years. 

“We are aware of the strategic importance of the port, and we would like to complete the construction work as soon as possible,” he said. 

The total exports of İskenderun rose by 11.32 percent from $2.09 billion to $2.33 billion last year, the İskenderun Trade and Industry Chamber told the Daily News in an emailed statement. 

The share of the İskenderun port in the overall export figures of the district rose from $270 million to $297.5 million last year, according to figures. 

“We are expecting to … take the lion’s share in regional trade soon,” said Bacaksız. 

Meanwhile, in response to Turkey’s sanctions against the Syrian government, the Syrian Parliament approved legislation imposing a 30 percent tax on all Turkish-made products on Dec. 28. According to data from Turkey’s Customs and Trade Ministry, the number of Turkish trucks crossing over the Syrian border to trade with the region dropped from 5,000 to 300 per day in the last month. With Turkish exporters now focusing on alternative routes to bypass the Arab republic, Syria has lost nearly $150 million due to declining tax revenues from Turkish trucks. Moreover, Turkey’s trade with Syrian has slowed down significantly in the last month, declining by nearly $28 million to $65.3 million. 

Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan has said the country is developing plans to bypass Syria by sending Turkish trucks to the Gulf via Roll-on/roll-off (RORO) services to Egypt’s Alexandria port.

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