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VOA TV Report: Iraq's Main Port Reopens, But Still Faces Obstacles - 2003-07-10

Iraq’s primary commercial port is Umm Qasr in the southern part of the country near the Persian Gulf. Coalition forces took over the port in April, but many practical obstacles stand in the way of getting it back into full operation. Iraq’s only deep-water port, Umm Qasr, is open for business again, under temporary direction of an American company. The port Captain is Jan Karon, a Briton who is living in the mostly empty port authority building. His job is to keep track of ship movement in the harbor.

“Basically, the place is very, very slowly coming back to life," he said. “It’s a massive complex, absolutely massive complex. Humanitarian aid has priority over all other commercial traffic at the moment.”

There is no water and little electricity for air conditioners, much less for the big machinery here.

It’s going to take some time for the new port authority, a contractor called Stevedoring Services of America, to restore full operations and return the port to Iraqi control.

Looted warehouses stand empty and some docks are deserted, but that’s changing.

“It’s very quickly being cleaned up by the local authority and they are trying very hard to get this place back up and running," Mr. Karon said. "There’s a massive amount of activity. They’ve had to dredge, they’ve had to clear the mines, they’ve had to make a safe passage for vessels to get up into the port. They have to make sure the ships don’t go aground.”

Small shipping dhows from neighboring countries are already at berths with commercial cargoes as work goes on clearing sunken ships from the channel, some dating from the first Gulf War in 1991.

Local stevedores are eager for the work that has to be done mostly by hand to unload freighters able to negotiate the harbor. Some say the pay is OK, while others complain that the wages are not high enough.

Goods go mostly by road from here to other parts of Iraq. But security is uncertain on the roads, so the truckers gather in convoys to protect themselves and their cargos against bandits.