Dubai finishes buying P&O

Shareholders of British international port operator approve sale for $6.8 billion

February 14, 2006|By MEREDITH COHN | MEREDITH COHN,SUN REPORTER

Dubai Ports World, a state-owned international port operator, cleared its last major hurdle yesterday in acquiring a British company that helps run several U.S. terminals, including Baltimore's, the companies said yesterday.

The acquisition of Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co., whose shareholders agreed yesterday to accept Dubai Ports World's offer of 3.9 billion pounds, or $6.8 billion, in cash, would create the world's third-largest port operator, with 51 terminals in 30 countries. It will also give the aggressive Dubai a larger foothold in the booming trade between Asia and the United States.

P&O officials have said they expect the company to be run separately out of London and do not expect changes in U.S. operations in New York, New Jersey, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

P&O is the terminal operator and stevedore for container cargo at the Seagirt and Dundalk marine terminals, where it has about 65 employees.

F. Brooks Royster III, director of the Maryland Port Administration, which oversees the public marine terminals, said an infusion of money from Dubai Ports World might help the port expand.

The Dubai Ports World's purchase of P&O has not drawn opposition from world regulators or U.S. Homeland Security officials, who have labeled ports as potential terrorist targets.

Dubai Ports World "is owned by a monarchy, but it's a business and its money is the same color as everyone else's, only it's got more of it," said Peter S. Shaerf, managing director of AMA Capital Partners LLC, a merchant banking firm focused on the maritime and transportation industries.

Shaerf said the sale price is the most ever paid for any port operations company and was considered high by many analysts after Dubai Ports World and rival PSA International, of Singapore, bid up the price. PSA pulled out of the running last week.

Dubai Ports World, formerly Dubai Ports International, began as the port authority in Dubai. In 1999, it began aggressively buying up other port operations in the Middle East and around the world, Shaerf said.

In January 2005, the company moved farther into Asia and Europe with the acquisition of the international terminal business of CSX Corp. With that acquisition, it changed its named to Dubai Ports World.

The company reported that business has been growing 20 percent a year since 2001, but as a private company, it does not reveal its income.

Its port in Dubai, one of the world's largest for containers, is supported by a state economic entity that provides tax and other incentives to corporations moving to the emirate. Oil production and tourism support the hot Dubai economy.

Fred Duiven, a maritime analyst for the consultant Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., said Dubai Ports World still needs global scale and possibly the name recognition of the 165-year-old P&O, to better negotiate with carriers and suppliers that use the world's ports. The bulk of the world's trade moves by sea.

"This gets them into the United States and gets them a stronger presence in Europe," Duiven said.

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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