- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2006

The port-operating company that DP World bought this month will oversee the sale of U.S. port operations and expects to find a buyer in four to six months.

P&O; Ports North America Inc., the wholly owned U.S. subsidiary of the British company purchased by the Dubai-owned firm, said yesterday that it will find a U.S. buyer to take over ports in New York, Baltimore, Miami, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Newark, N.J.

“I cannot emphasize enough that it will be an American buyer,” P&O; Ports North America President Michael Seymour said.

Mr. Seymour said he considers a U.S. buyer to be one that is controlled by a U.S. firm.

DP World’s purchase of Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co. for $6.8 billion took effect March 9.

But until a sale is final, P&O; Ports North America will continue to operate the six U.S. ports that DP World has agreed to sell in response to mounting pressure from congressional critics concerned over foreign control of port operations.

DP World has said operations at the U.S. terminals that it will sell are worth $700 million.

Mr. Seymour declined to name the companies interested in purchasing U.S. terminal operations, but he said numerous firms have contacted P&O; Ports and its legal and financial advisers to inquire about the assets.

“It’s too early to give any individual names, but suffice it to say there has been significant interest and it’s coming from a number of different routes. We’re very comfortable at this early stage just how much interest there has been from American buyers,” he said.

In light of the interest, he said, DP World’s effort to sell terminal operations will have “a positive outcome.”

Yesterday’s announcement was intended to answer questions raised since it said last week that it intended to “transfer fully” to an unspecified U.S. company the U.S. port operations.

“It’s important for the company to continue moving forward on what they committed to doing, and we appreciate the step that they took,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. He praised the decision by Dubai’s ruler to sell the U.S. operations to preserve good relations between the countries.

SSA Marine spokesman Bob Watters declined to comment on his company’s interest in acquiring DP World’s U.S. terminal operations. SSA Marine, the largest U.S. operator of terminals, operates seven terminals and handles 6 million containers annually at its domestic terminals.

It also operates one terminal through a joint venture at the Port of Philadelphia with P&O; Ports North America, Mr. Watters said.

DP World will not sell terminal operations in Miami separately.

“P&O; Ports North America will be sold as a single entity, not in several parts, to an American buyer,” Mr. Seymour said.

DP World has hired Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. to act as its financial adviser, New York law firm Sullivan & Cromwell LLP to provide legal advice, and D.C. law firm Alston & Bird LLP to serve as its lobbyist and handle regulatory issues related to the sale.

“It certainly appears on its face to achieve what we want, and that’s to have a U.S. company running these ports,” said Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. “I think DP World got the message loudly and clearly.”

Another vocal critic, Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said lawmakers will continue to monitor the corporate negotiations.

The Pew Research Center yesterday released a poll showing that 58 percent of Americans support congressional opposition to DP World’s purchase of terminal operations at U.S. ports.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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