From the rooftop where I’m standing right now, the view across Misrata’s docks is nothing short of stunning.
In the heat of the early afternoon, I can see the ships of a dozen different countries tied up along the waterfront. There’s a bulk carrier from Istanbul, a Zanzibar-registered livestock transporter, and a huge vehicle transporter sailing under the flag of Gibraltar.
Out beyond the breakwater, along the near horizon, I count nearly 20 other huge vessels making their approach. Behind me, cranes and heavy lifters are shifting and sorting metal cargo containers ready for export.
Business is clearly booming.
It’s a dramatic change to the desperate days of April and May 2011. Then, under heavy shelling and rocket attack, only humanitarian boats were brave enough to race into the port to deliver emergency supplies and evacuate casualties. Now, millions of dollars of trade is passing through this port every month.
I head downstairs into the building, the headquarters of the Misrata Free Zone Company, and in his office, the Company General Manager shows me his vision of the future. On his wall is a large scale map of the port area and the proposal for an expanded Free Zone around it. It would be like a small town: there’s space allocated for sports, residential accommodation, prayer facilities, as well as bonded warehouses and vastly expanded storage capability.
At the moment, some 1200 people work on site.
Within 20 years, he believes 80 thousand people could be making their living here.
The idea of the (Duty) Free Zone is to handle millions of dollars of goods, with only the products which are imported into Libya-proper being subject to tax. At the moment, that’s the lion’s share of the business.
But a rapid expansion of the transit business is underway. The intent is to turn Misrata into an international hub port taking in the bulk of the cargo before distributing it to smaller ports across the Mediterranean.
In the first five months of 2012, turnover has trebled, from 3.8 million Libyan Dinar ($3.2mn) to 9.4 million Libyan Dinars ($7.5mn).
Indications are that it will hit 10.5 million Libyan Dinars ($8.4mn) for June.
Export tonnage increased five-fold between January and April.
What is remarkable about this success is that it has been achieved with negligible input from Tripoli.
While the NTC government was struggling to organise national elections, Misrata pushed ahead with trouble-free city elections back in February. The new council is already engaged with organising health and education functions, as well as the police and security.
It begs the question whether the government which emerges after July 7th will try to muscle in on Misrata’s success.
In fact, few people I met believe that will happen. The prevailing attitude I found was an enthusiasm and patriotism for the new Libya, and a pride that Misrata may play a prominent role in the country’s economic recovery.