Eller Web site seeks action to force DP World sale
The Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based marine cargo handling company that blew the whistle on Dubai Ports World’s March acquisition of nearly two dozen U.S. port facilities from a British ports operator, is trying to put pressure on Congress again to make sure the Dubai company divests those assets as promised.
Eller & Co. recently launched a Web site, http://www.portsforus.org, urging Americans to contact members of Congress and demand that terminal leases and stevedoring businesses at 22 ports, including container operations in six major East Coast ports, be placed in the hands of an independent receiver to manage the sell-off. DP World acquired the marine terminal operations from Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. as part of a $6.8 billion deal for port facilities around the world.
Eller’s Internet lobbying effort was first reported by the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.
The Web site includes an ad complete with ominous sounding music stating that the emir of Dubai still owns the P&O operations, including in Miami, where Eller is a partner with a subsidiary of P&O Ports North America. The narrator says the United States has been duped to believe that Dubai will sell its North American business to an American entity.
The Web site includes a running clock showing the length of time to the second that a United Arab Emirates company has owned U.S. port facilities. Monday marks 55 days since DP World consummated the sale of P&O and the end of the separation agreement under which DP World said it would keep hands off operational decisions in the United States.
DP World officials have unofficially indicated they think the U.S. terminal business is worth at least $750 million, based in part on the premium the company paid to beat out another bidder for P&O. But Eller claims the U.S. assets are only worth $200 million.
“When the government of Dubai can’t find anyone to take the sucker deal ' they retain control and ownership,” the ad says.
An independent receiver will be able to assess the true value of P&O Ports North America and make sure it gets sold to an American company in which the government of Dubai does not retain a hidden financial interest, the Web site claims.
No mention of Eller is made anywhere on the Web site, which says it is sponsored by PortsForUS.org.
“The purpose of the Web site is to make people aware that there are a lot myths about what DP World said” and the facts involving U.S. security and its intentions to divest P&O Ports North America, Eller attorney Michael Kreitzer told Shippers’ NewsWire.
Fierce opposition from Congress to the Bush administration’s approval of the P&O sale forced DP World in March to give up plans to operate the U.S. terminals and stevedoring businesses. Lawmakers said DP World posed a threat to national security because some terrorists had used the country as a staging ground for the 9/11 attacks and the country’s record of as a transshipment point for smuggled nuclear components to rogue regimes. They raised fears that terrorists could infiltrate the company and try to enter or launch an attack through a port operated by the state-owned company. DP World finally agreed to set up a process to sell the North American business to an American entity, with the stipulation that the deal could not result in a financial loss.
DP World’s investment advisor, Deutsche Bank, is expected within the next two weeks to release financial documents about the assets to interested investors. Many industry sources had originally expected P&O’s books to be opened for review in mid-April.
Eller has several longstanding disputes with P&O over ownership shares in their three-way joint venture operating one of three terminals in the Port of Miami. Eller also filed suit in February to stop the transfer to P&O, claiming its subsidiary in Miami, Continental Stevedoring and Terminals, was involuntary being forced to partner with DP World. Eller representatives have made it clear the company should have gotten an opportunity to buy out P&O in Miami and that it will participate in the upcoming bid process.
Eller has pushed since the beginning of the controversy in mid-February for Congress to appoint a trustee to take over the P&O assets.