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Dubai Ports World at Center of Ports Debate

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Dubai Ports World at Center of Ports Debate

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Dubai Ports World at Center of Ports Debate

Dubai Ports World at Center of Ports Debate

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A much-criticized deal would give the UAE-owned company control over terminals at six major U.S. ports. Michael Grey of the maritime journal Lloyd's List, talks with Madeleine Brand about the company.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

The White House says President Bush did not know ahead of time about the pending sale of shipping operations to a state-owned company in the United Arab Emirates. He still supports the move and says he'll veto any efforts by Congress to block this controversial port deal that would allow Dubai Ports World to take over U.S. operations of a British company called PNO. Political leaders from both parties and all levels of government have blasted the takeover as a potential threat to national security.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Well, to find out more about this company, Dubai Ports World, we're joined by Michael Grey. He's the opinion editor of Lloyd's List. And that's a maritime industry journal based in London. And Mr. Grey, welcome to the program.

Mr. MICHAEL GREY (Editor of "Lloyd's List"): Yes, nice to speak to you.

BRAND: Well, what can you tell us about the history of this company, Dubai Ports World?

Mr. GREY: Well, you're right, it is a Dubai-owned company, and it started off very recently. They decided in 1999 that the port industry was a very good growth area around the world. They looked at some pretty big examples of successful ports operations elsewhere, and they started to invest in it. They did it locally around the Arab peninsula in Jedda and in Dubai itself, so they started off, and they gradually increased through growth and takeovers to the present state, where they're now, I think they're probably about the fourth biggest port operators in the world now.

One of the interesting things was that only last year, I think January last year, if I'm right, they bought a large American stevedoring operation called CSX World Terminals. It seemed quite a mystery to us in this part of the world why there was no furor then.

BRAND: Now, is stevedoring operation; that company actually does the day-to-day handling of shipping containers at ports? That's what stevedoring is?

Mr. GREY: That's what stevedoring is, exactly. They're responsible for moving cargo from the ships into the trucks to take it inland and vice versa.

BRAND: So this company, Dubai Ports World owns CSX now?

Mr. GREY: Yes, they've owned it since last January.

BRAND: And no one has raised an eyebrow?

Mr. GREY: We found this was rather peculiar, you know, bearing in mind the row there has been over the last few days, that CXS was taken onboard without any trouble at all as far as we could see.

BRAND: And CSX is in nearly, as I understand it, every port in this country, is that correct?

Mr. GREY: Yes, although the bits that, CSX, they have known stevedoring things as well, they're into road and rail in quite a big way, and I think it's only the stevedoring elements that Dubai took over.

BRAND: Have there ever been security concerns with Dubai Ports World?

Mr. GREY: Not that we're aware of. I mean, they're in a fairly substantial number of countries now that have large terminals in Hong Kong and China and Australia and Germany. They're in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, and I think one of the biggest they have, one of the biggest port investment programs going at the moment in Pusan in South Korea, where they're building an enormous terminal there.

BRAND: This is a government-owned company, but it's a multi-national company. Who actually runs it?

Mr. GREY: Well, on the ground, it is run by what you might call the experts. Basically, stevedoring is all about expertise. It's all about manpower, organizing manpower well, investing in things like a container crane, for instance, and a single container crane will cost something between $10 million and $15 million, so it's certainly a capital-intensive business as well, so it's a big well-organized operation, which tends to run on the ground in these various countries, using cargo-handling experts. For instance, in America, they will be exactly the same people who are running the terminals now, who I imagine now are mostly American.

BRAND: Michael Grey is the opinion editor of Lloyd's List. That's a journal that covers the international shipping industry. We spoke with Michael Grey from London. Thank you.

Mr. GREY: Thank you.

BRAND: And this note. CSX operates one of the largest rail networks in the eastern half of the United States. It also runs rail transportation and distribution services that cover a 23,000-route-mile network across 23 states. Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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