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ZIM , Israel Navigation Company Ltd., founded in June 1945 by the Jewish Agency, the Histadrut, and the Palestine Maritime League in order to build a merchant fleet that would make the prospective Jewish state independent of foreign shipping, as well as to exploit the sea as a source of income. The word ẓim means ships and appears in the Bible (Num. 24:24). The Jewish Agency held 45% of the shares, the Histadrut 45%, and the Palestine Maritime League 10%. Supreme control by the future state was ensured in the articles of the company by a governor's share that gave its owners public-political control. In 1959 the government became a one-third partner in the company; in 1965 its share rose to 80%. Zim's first ship, purchased in January 1947 in partnership with a British company, was the 3,500-ton Kedmah, which opened a passenger and cargo service between Haifa and Marseilles. After the establishment of the State of Israel, it became vital to transport immediately the mass of refugees from Europe. Zim then merged with Oniyyot u-Sefinot, a branch of the Mosad, the organization for "illegal" immigration, which at the time owned many boats that had been confiscated by the British authorities. Some of the vessels were found suitable for the transport of immigrants; others were used to form the Israel navy.

In 1951 Zim, for the first time, ordered two new cargo boats. After the reparations agreement was signed between Israel and West Germany, Zim received purchase credits and, between 1953 and 1955, ordered 18 new ships from German shipyards, including two passenger ships for its European lines, two passenger-cargo ships for the transatlantic line, and one tanker. Subsequently Zim had ships built in shipyards in Japan, France, Italy, Yugoslavia, Sweden, and Israel, and by the beginning of 1970 the company owned or operated 60 ships with a deadweight of 1,012,605 tons. In 1964 the 25,000-ton passenger ship ssShalom began service on the Haifa-New York line. The management's decision to provide two kitchens on board – one for kosher and the other for non-kosher food – aroused a violent controversy, and eventually Zim had to operate the ship with only a kosher kitchen. The ship did not make a sufficient profit and was sold in 1967. The passenger service reached its peak in 1960 when four passenger ships were serving Zim. In 1967 Zim employed 3,400 sailors and shore employees. The expansion of maritime training facilities accompanied the development of the fleet. However, passenger service declined in the 1960s as elsewhere in the world and by 1970 Zim owned no passenger ships.

Zim then expanded its cargo lines and began operating specialized ships such as bulk carriers, refrigerated ships, and tankers. Another important field of activity was the operation of tankers carrying oil from Iran to Israel, and petroleum products from Israel to Europe. In the early 1970s Zim established zcs – zim Container Service. The company ordered and built six ships, the first generation of large specialized container ships, as well as shore equipment and containers. During the early 1980s Zim faced another financial crisis, but eventually achieved a turnaround. The year 1985 marked the start of a new era for a leaner, more flexible, and more profitable Zim. In the early 2000s the company constituted an integrated international transportation system, combining a variety of transport-related activities and providing a wide range of services. Zim operates over 80 vessels of all types. Of these, 27 vessels are fully or partly owned and the rest chartered. In 2004 the Israeli government sold its shares (49%) in Zim to Israel Corporation, owned by the Ofer family, transforming Zim into a private company. Zim's ships maintain regular communications with most European countries, the U.S. and Canada, South America, West and East Africa, and countries in Asia, including Hong Kong, Japan, and Australia. The company's rapid and successful development attracted the attention of new countries in Africa and Asia, which invited the company to organize and run their shipping. The national shipping of Ghana and Burma were organized by Zim.


S. Tolkowsky, They Took to the Sea (1964); Ha-Toren (monthly of the Zim Co.; 1953–65); Ha-Yammai ha-Ivri (1947–62; especially the articles by Captain Ze'ev Ha-Yam). website: www.zim.co.il.

[Zvi Herman /

Shaked Gilboa (2nd ed.)]