- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2014

For the first time in U.S. history, a Middle Eastern-based firm is poised to manage a strategic U.S. port on Florida’s Atlantic coast, rekindling national security concerns inside Congress.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, the California Republican who oversees port security as chairman of the House Transportation’s maritime transportation subcommittee, demanded Tuesday that the Obama administration conduct a full national security review of the decision last month by Gulftainer to sign a 35-year contract with Florida’s Port Canaveral.

The firm is a privately owned cargo terminal operator based in the United Arab Emirates, a confederation of governments friendly to the U.S. but which has also been identified as a source of terrorist funding over the years. The 9/11 commission, in fact, reported that much of the money for the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington flowed through UAE’s open financial sector.

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The Middle Eastern company will be operating a U.S. terminal in one of the busiest cruise ports in the world, and not far from the Trident Turning Basin, which the Navy uses to support its fleet of nuclear ballistic missile submarines.

Mr. Hunter wrote Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, urging that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), an interagency committee that reviews the national security implications on foreign investments, thoroughly review the Port Canaveral deal.

“It is critical that — before this agreement proceeds — CFIUS determines whether a terminal operation agreement with Gulftainer presents any risk or impact to U.S. national security,” Mr. Hunter wrote.

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Less than a decade ago, Congress forced Dubai Ports World, also based in UAE, to abandon plans to enter the U.S. port market after lawmakers cited security concerns and argued that foreign governments should not own strategic assets such as U.S. ports.

Following a 62-2 vote against DP World by the House Committee on Appropriations, the company abandoned its bid and sold off its American port operations.

Gulftainer has promised the Port of Canaveral a $100 million investment in its infrastructure, equipment and people.

Port Canaveral’s chief executive officer, John Walsh, told the Orlando Business Journal that Gulftainer is a major part of the port’s goal to turn its $5 million annual cargo business into a $100 million business. Gulftainer will also help the Port purchase existing Florida East Coast Rail tracks to transport cargo into Central Florida and out of the state.

Mr. Walsh was out of the office Tuesday and unable to return calls to The Washington Times, according to an automated response from his email. Calls to the Port Authority were not returned.

The Florida deal gains Gulftainer a toehold into the U.S. marketplace, which it’s eager to enter. Peter Richards, Gulftainer managing director, told a group of reporters when the Port Canaveral deal was announced in June that his company was in talks with other U.S. ports, which he declined to identify.

The company had no immediate response Tuesday to Mr. Hunter’s letter.

Last year, Gulftainer solidified its position as the largest terminal operator in the Middle East — in terms of terminals operated — with its majority acquisition of Gulf Stevedoring Contracting Company, a Saudi Arabia-based business.

In addition to its cargo operations, Gulftainer has also established a number of logistics companies, primarily based in the Middle East. Gulftainer operates inland transportation and freight companies in countries with political unrest, such as Pakistan, Turkey and Russia.

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