Yousef Al Otaiba, the ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the United States, was among a bevy of local, national and international guests at Port Canaveral on Friday to celebrate the grand opening of Gulftainer USA’s new container terminal.
The facility, located midway down the East Coast of Florida, marks Gulftainer’s entry into the U.S. port market and the first time a Middle Eastern company has operated a marine terminal in the United States.
Gulftainer last summer inked a 35-year exclusive lease with the Port Canaveral Authority to operate the container terminal. Port Canaveral redeveloped the property and bought ship-to-shore cranes, while Gulftainer has promised to invest $100 million in technology, equipment, infrastructure and personnel in the coming years.
Gulftainer, which is located in the emirate of Sharjah and partially owned through an investment company by Sharjah’s ruler, cleared a U.S. government security review last year
. The reviews are routinely conducted when foreign interests seek to acquire U.S. companies with critical technical know-how or in sectors considered important to national security.
Gulftainer’s deal with Canaveral barely caught any attention in Washington, in contrast to the political firestorm that erupted in 2006 when DP World of Dubai acquired a major terminal management company with operations at multiple U.S. ports and was forced to divest the U.S. assets because of alleged concerns over potential links to terrorists. That deal was much larger and Gulftainer proactively notified U.S. authorities about its Canaveral transaction to make sure there were no potential regulatory glitches.
The terror attacks of 9/11 also appear further in the distance today and many politicians now realize that terminal operators don’t actually take ownership of U.S. ports. Another difference this time around is that there was no U.S. company upset about losing out on the concession to point out an alleged threat from a foreign company.
Gulftainer officials say the container terminal will be a “world class” facility, although to date the company has no shipping line customers prepared to move cargo through Port Canaveral. Gulftainer USA’s headquarters are located at the port. Last week, CEO Peter Richards told American Shipper
that the company, which operates terminals in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Turkey, and Lebanon, is interested in expanding to other ports in North and South America
The Port Canaveral container terminal has an initial handling capacity of 200,000 TEUs and faces stiff competition from other ports in Florida, including Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach, Miami and Tampa.
Officials attending the ceremony included Vinai Thummalapply, executive director of SelectUSA within the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration, and Richard Biter, assistant secretary for the Florida Department of Transportation, according to a news release issued by Gulftainer.
“We have earned a position in the top tier of the world’s fastest, most efficient, most secure port operators," said Richards. "We are not stopping. We aim to triple our global cargo capacity by 2020 in 35 terminals across five continents. Our GT USA operations at Port Canaveral, our headquarters in North America, are a big part of that picture.”