The port of Baltimore's largest marine terminal operator, ITO Corp., will be purchased today by P&O Ports, an international port management conglomerate making its first investment in the U.S. shipping trade.
The deal will transfer one of the port's largest employers to foreign ownership, but is not expected to prompt any immediate changes in ITO's Baltimore operations.
The company employs several dozen people in administrative positions in Baltimore, and creates much of the work for the city's unionized Longshoremen.
Directors of the two companies announced the deal yesterday, with P&O Ports agreeing to buy all of ITO's stock for 50 million British pounds, or about $78.85 million. The purchase will take effect today.
"We have acquired ITO on the basis of the strength of its existing operations, including those in Baltimore" said Alistair Baillie, director of P&O Ports. "We are not intending to change the operations, but to assist them in growing the business."
ITO, or International Terminal Operating Co., is a New Jersey-based company with offices along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
ITO is among the region's largest stevedores -- companies that manage the loading and unloading of cargo in marine terminals -- and handles much of the containerized cargo shipped in and out of the port of Baltimore.
Through contracts with the state, it operates the Seagirt Marine Terminal and the South Locust Point Marine Terminal. It also has operations at the Dundalk Marine Terminal.
P&O Ports is a subsidiary of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., a British shipping giant with offices throughout the world.
P&O Ports' headquarters is in Sydney, Australia, and the company manages more than 45 ports in Australia, Asia, South America, Europe and Africa.
The parent corporation also owns half of P&O Nedlloyd, the world's third-largest steamship line and a potential customer that Baltimore port officials have long hoped to lure to the city.
Baillie said the port and steamship companies operate separately and that P&O Ports' arrival is not a promise that P&O's ships will call here.
But the two divisions are always looking for "opportunities to strengthen the company and reduce costs," he said.
Jim White, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, said executives with P&O Ports toured the port of Baltimore about a month ago, as they looked for potential investments in the United States. Because the port of Baltimore is one of ITO's primary operations bases, White said, he considered P&O Ports' decision to buy ITO a vote of confidence in the city as well.
"I think it can be great for the port," White said. "They're recognized worldwide, and they're making an investment here. That's a compliment, and it shows they think the port will grow."