Hong Kong and Israel have had shipping ties for the past 45 years. And, while the rise in oil prices has caused shipping firms some pain, Israel's ZIM Integrated Shipping Services is looking forward to a rapid expansion over the next few years. In addition, it has opened a new east-west route from Asia to northern Europe. It started a few months ago and from last month this route was extended to incorporate Hong Kong. 'It's a new service that we started a few months ago from Asia to Europe. We started it with 4,250 teu [20-foot equivalent unit] vessels, but in 2009 we are going to upgrade it to our mega vessels of 10,000 teu,' said ZIM's president for Asia and the Far East Dan Hoffmann. 'We have four or five services that go via Hong Kong,' he said. 'ZIM has been based in Hong Kong for 45 years. We started seriously in 1972 with our zinc container service, which started in Haifa [Israel] and went to Hong Kong via the Pacific, Panama, and the Atlantic to Haifa again. Since then, Hong Kong has been quite central to our operations.' ZIM's owner has an aggressive growth strategy planned for the next five to 10 years. The firm has about 100 ships, some chartered, some owned but this will be increasing over the next few years by another 43 vessels, 21 of them are mega vessels from 8,000 to 12,600 teu. The rest are around 4,250, 2500, and 1,700 teu. 'We intend to be the 10th largest shipping container firm globally. Currently we are about 15th,' said Mr Hoffmann. 'We came here very early on,' Mr Hoffmann said of the shipping firm's relationship with Hong Kong. 'The Asian headquarters were initially in Japan but it was moved to Hong Kong because the city was the centre of Asia,' he said. 'And it wasn't a mistake; we realised that we really chose correctly by coming here.'