Gulftainer evaluating investment in US Port, Benghazi terminal, CEO says

Sheikh Sultan Bin Ahmed Al QassimiWASHINGTON (CI MENA) — Gulftainer Group of Companies, the privately-held port operator owned by Sharjah, UAE based Crescent Enterprises, is looking at investing in a port in the United States and is currently bidding to re-redevelop the port of Benghazi, Crescent Entreprises CEO Badr Jafar said.

Speaking to Capitol Intelligence during the Sharjah USA 2013 Roadshow in Washington DC led by HE Sheikh Sultan Bin Ahmed Al Quassimi on September 30/October 1, Jafar said Gulftainer is very interested in bringing its expertise to a US port and also developing the Libyan ports of Benghazi, Zliten and Misurata.

Jafar said that Gulftainer is currently the seventh largest port operator in the world and has operations such as Jeddah and Jubail in Saudi Arabia; Umm Qasr in Iraq;  Ust-Luga in Russia; and Recife in Brazil.

Also speaking to Capitol Intelligence, Gulftainer CEO Peter Richards said the group is looking at a “niche” port operator on the East Coast of the United States. He said it is looking for a port terminal capable of handling at least 1m of TEUs.

He said that the company is still determined to seek a US base despite the “surprising” rejection of its USD 130m offer to invest in the Port of Jacksonville, Florida last summer.

He said that the Port of Baltimore run by Ports of America seems “locked up” and union issues surrounding ports in the Northeast United States could make a public-private investment difficult.

US Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) held a special committee meeting late September regarding the creation of the Infrastructure Finance Authority modeled roughly on US export-import Eximbank and European Investment Bank to provide funds for P3 infrastructure projects in the United States.

Speaking to Capitol Intelligence , Warner said that such an authority is “way overdue” and that the IFA would be independent and would only invest in investment grade projects.

“The IFA would generate revenues from loan fees similar that of Eximbank,” he said.

Also testifying at the hearing were Carlyle Infrastructure head Robert Dove and Morgan Stanley CEO J. Perry Offutt who both said that the IFA would be a great help in attracting private investment from both US and foreign funds in US infrastructure projects.

While Gulftainer already has long-term relationships with investment banks such as Standard Chartered Bank and JP Morgan, it would welcome approaches by investment banks bringing large private equity and pension funds as co-investors to its projects in the US and elsewhere.

Crescent Enterprise CEO Jafar said that they are bidding on re-developing the Benghazi port with financing from the Abu Dhabi Investment Fund and would be open to developing deep sea ports in Misurata and Zlinten.

Officials at the Sultanate of Oman said they would be open to developing the port of Zlinten alongside another port operator such as Gulftainer or even the Port of Ravenna with which Oman has a cultural exchange. Ravenna deputy mayor Gianantonio Minghozzi told Capitol Intelligence that he is encouraging Ravenna based port operators to enter the Libyan market.

Gulftainer’s Richards said the group could also be interested in developing and managing a port in Tunisia such as Bizerte or even the planned deep sea port in Enfidha on which European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has been working with the government of Tunisia.

Richards also said they would be interested in looking at ports in West Africa, especially Cote D’Ivoire.

Richards said that Gulftainer is on track to become the 5th largest operator in the world through the acquisition of about 2m TEU container traffic.  He also said that the group will be interested in going ahead with an initial public offering, possibly a 20 percent stake, in the next couple of years.

By PK Semler Washington, DC

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