- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2006

The list of U.S. companies most prepared to operate terminals at six ports DP World planned to take over is short.

SSA Marine and Maher Terminals appear to be candidates to operate ports in New York, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami, Philadelphia and Newark, N.J., after the decision by DP World yesterday to end weeks of political controversy by divesting itself of the terminals.

Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, satisfied lawmakers who opposed DP World’s takeover of terminal operations when he read a statement on the Senate floor signaling the company’s decision to bow to pressure from Congress.

But when Mr. Warner said DP World plans to transfer U.S. operations “to a United States entity,” it left lawmakers and people in the shipping industry wondering which company he was talking about.

That’s the question everyone is asking, said John Ullyot, Mr. Warner’s spokesman.

“I don’t know if they have a buyer lined up or if they’re looking for one,” Mr. Ullyot said.

DP World last week completed its $6.8 billion purchase of Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co., the British firm that through a U.S. subsidiary runs the U.S. port operations. It also plays a lesser role in dockside activities at 16 other American ports.

SSA Marine and Maher Terminals are the likely buyers, said Peter S. Shaerf, managing director of merchant banking firm AMA Capital Partners LLC, in New York.

“There are only a couple of obvious suspects in the U.S. stevedoring industry,” he said.

SSA Marine, a privately held family-owned firm in Seattle, is the world’s ninth-largest terminal operator, based on the number of containers handled, and the largest U.S. operator of terminals. It operates 105 terminals worldwide, and seven of the 100 terminals at the top 100 U.S. ports.

The company handled 6.7 million 20-foot containers in 2004. Hutchison Port Holdings, a Hong Kong company that is the world’s largest operator, handled 47.8 million containers.

Maher Terminals, in Berkeley Heights, N.J., also is private and operates the biggest terminal at the Port of New York and New Jersey. The company handled about 1.2 million containers last year.

It was not clear how DP World would manage the planned divestiture.

The company plans to make the transfer “in an orderly fashion,” the statement said.

DP World could sell operations of U.S. ports to an equity firm like Blackstone Group, Mr. Shaerf said.

“We have little to go on,” Mr. Shaerf said.

Blackstone, based in New York, said this week it will buy Washington commercial real estate firm CarrAmerica for $5.6 billion.

Maryland Port Administration Executive Director Brooks Royster said the agency will continue to monitor the sale of port operations and would not comment further.

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