DOT official: DP World controversy has freight policy silver lining
The heated national debate about whether Dubai Ports World’s operation of several domestic marine cargo terminals posed a threat to security scuttled the U.S. portion of the ports deal, but may have indirectly given a boost to the administration’s effort to develop a national freight policy and investment in intermodal infrastructure, said a top Department of Transportation official.
When the controversial deal first became public in mid-February there was much misreporting about the extent of DP World’s control over U.S. ports. But eventually the American public received an education in how ports function and their role in the global economy, said Jeffrey Shane, DOT undersecretary for policy.
“People do not understand the sophistication of the supply chain, the importance of its efficiency, the mechanics of it and how technology driven it is,” Shane said on the sidelines of the American Association of Port Authorities’ spring conference in Washington.
“For anybody in the transport sector (increased public awareness) is a good thing because that will get more attention for infrastructure and capacity that we need,” he said.
Shane is leading an effort within the administration to develop a public sector response to the rapid rise in volumes of containerized trade so that ports, highways and railroads can efficiently move goods consumers depend on.
Lawmakers often characterized DP World’s transaction as a soup-to-nuts takeover of property, security, and management throughout entire ports that would give the company unilateral power to determine which vessels, cargo and personnel entered the port, possibly including terrorists. Port authorities and the industry were largely silent in trying to set the record straight and at least one official now admits that port owners and users could have done a better job trying to quell the hysteria over sale.
“With 20/20 hindsight we could have reacted faster to get the facts out without getting involved in the DP World situation itself,” Jay Grant, director of the Port Security Council of America, told Shippers’ NewsWire. Grant said the council, a legislative coalition between the AAPA, the Chamber of Shipping of America and the International Council of Cruise Lines, did speak to several legislators to explain the terminal operators’ role within the port environment, but conceded more could have been done.