UAE ports operator sails back into the US

UAE company is moving back into the US ports business for first time in seven years.

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A UAE company is set to move into the American ports business for the first time since DP World was controversially blocked by the US Congress seven years ago.

Gulftainer, based in Sharjah and part of the Crescent Enterprises group, said that a deal with a US operator was imminent.

Peter Richards, managing director of Gulftainer, said discussions with American ports operators had been handled “very carefully”.

“We’ve been given a green light,” Mr Richards said. “We’ve been looking at two locations in the US, but will choose one.”

He declined to name the port, which is on the east coast of America, or the US partner in the deal.

DP World was blocked from ownership of US ports as part of its £4 billion takeover of the British maritime group P&O in 2006.

US politicians had raised fears about the security implications of having Middle East countries owning American ports.

“The world has changed and the US has changed. It wants investment,” said Mr Richards.

Gulftainer unveiled its new identity and strategy in a launch at the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce, attended by Sheikh Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi.

The company wants more than 20 new ports across the world by 2020 to exploit growing world trade.

Badr Jafar, chief executive of Crescent Enterprises, said the strategy was a logical step after the company’s recent expansion gave it more ports in the Middle East than any other operator.

Gulftainer has four operations in the UAE, including the only container terminal on the UAE’s eastern coast, at Khor Fakkan.

It also has businesses in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, where it recently announced deals to manage container terminals at Jeddah and Jubail.

Mr Jafar said Gulftainer planned to expand the number of ports it operated around the world to 35 over the next six years.

He said it would boost the number of containers it handled from 6 million TEUs – or 20-foot equivalent units, the standard industry measure – to 18 million globally.

“We have always expanded slowly but surely,” Mr Jafar said. “The financing for this strategy will be funded internally from within Crescent, and of course we will continue to work with financial partners.”

He said there were no plans for a public listing to finance growth.

“We will look at it in a spirit of partnership with both financial and trade partners,” Mr Jafar said.

Gulftainer’s strategy is part of a global dash for growth by UAE port operators.

Jebel Ali, the biggest port between Shanghai and Rotterdam, is owned by Dubai’s DP World, which has 65 ports around the world and aims to handle 100 million TEUs by 2020.

Khalifa Port, the marine terminal of the Kizad industrial zone in Abu Dhabi, will handle 15 million TEUs at full capacity.