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The Naftali Wydra Division for Ports and Shipping Research

Naftali Wydra
Naftali Wydra

Prof. Naftali Heinz Wydra is a monumental figure in the annals of Israel's maritime history, celebrated as a founding pioneer of the nation's shipping industry and the visionary behind the esteemed Wydra Institute for Shipping, Ports, and Aviation Studies. Born in Leipzig, Germany, in October 1909, Wydra's journey was pivotal when he immigrated to Israel in 1933, equipped with a rich academic foundation in law, constitution, and economics.

From 1936 to 1947, Wydra helmed the Jewish Agency's Naval Department, where his innovative research fueled the development of Israel's fishing industry. He founded fishing-based settlements along the Mediterranean coast and the Sea of Galilee, known locally as Kinneret. 

These settlements played a critical role in supporting immigration to Palestine in collaboration with the Palyam and The Mossad for Aliya Bet. Wydra's leadership also saw the empowerment of Hebrew laborers in port activities and maritime professions, notably through establishing the 'Haifa Nautical School' at the Hebrew Technion in 1938.

Wydra's tenure as the inaugural CEO of Kedem, and subsequently Zim, from 1947 to 1966, marked a golden era in Israel's maritime commerce. Under his guidance, Zim managed an expansive fleet of around 150 vessels, including passenger, tanker, freight, and bulk carrier ships, with 70 directly owned by the company.

He was pivotal in launching 17 regular shipping lines, introducing Israeli shipping to numerous foreign ports, some of which had previously been accessible only to partnership companies from developing nations.

Between 1969 and 1981, as chairman of the Board of Directors of the Ports Authority in Israel, Wydra oversaw a transformative period in which Israeli ports embraced containerization, significantly enhancing operational efficiency and global connectivity.

In 1969, Wydra established the Israeli Institute for Shipping Research, later known as the Wydra Institute for Shipping, Ports, and Aviation Research. His foresight aimed at fostering a theoretically oriented approach to maritime research, creating a robust database to aid Israeli decision-makers. The Institute's focus spanned transportation, maritime transport, port planning and development, and many other maritime and ecological topics.

Wydra's final legacy act was relocating the Research Institute to the University of Haifa in 1987, turning its library into a pivotal resource hub for maritime knowledge. The Institute offered expert opinions and professional advice and became a leading center for arbitration in shipping economics. The University of Haifa recognized Wydra's unparalleled contributions by awarding him the title of Associate Professor, and the Haifa Municipality honored him with honorary citizenship, celebrating a lifetime devoted to advancing Israel's maritime domain.

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