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Lloyds List: Protesting too much, too late

Lloyds List; Feb 21, 2006
SHOWING what might be described as a typically up-to-the minute appreciation of the maritime industries, the intervention by a number of US politicians to prevent the takeover of P'O by DP Ports must be regarded with certain scepticism. In that virtually all of America's exports and imports are transported in foreign bottoms, after politicians of all colours colluded in the relegation of the US flag to the domestic coasting trades, one must ask whether this sudden burst of patriotic apprehension about the beneficial ownership of a number of terminals is a trifle precious.
If the P'O deal has been in the public domain for months, and security issues certainly discussed in the due diligence process, why has it taken until now for the politicians to break cover? A cynic, who might have noted the huge lack of political interest in the maritime industry in the US over many years, might conclude that it is the sort of risk-free populist cause that will attract the attention of politicians wishing to embarrass the current administration.
It is worth recalling that the US has form in this respect, with the fuss generated some years ago when a major Chinese shipping company was negotiating to acquire its own terminal in the San Francisco Bay area. Regardless of the fact that China had become the biggest exporter of goods to the US, this was deemed a move too far.
Politicians aside, the position of joint venture partners who find that their bedfellows have changed without their being asked are, perhaps, in a stronger position. But it is a fact of modern day business that these things happen, and it is premature for such a joint venturer to start playing the national security card when there is not a shred of evidence to suppose that the change of ownership to Dubai will prejudice security in any way. The discommoded partners can always walk away.
US ports and terminals, which, let's face it, are not regarded as a benchmark for efficiency or productivity, will assuredly benefit from a more 'international' approach, and modern port operations is an important global industry that is of unquestioned benefit to everyone. Generating a huge security scare for some political advantage is crass. The objectors should get real and consider who is going to be running these terminals. Mostly Americans, like they do today.
A GROWING law and order problem in Nigeria has forced Shell to shut down a sizeable portion of that country's oil exports. The seeds of a full-blown insurrection, with hostage-taking and increasingly serious firefights between government forces and rebels, is not an ideal background for the development of a reliable energy industry.
A descent into anarchy in the strategically important Delta, an oilfield of immense importance to Nigeria, is a dreadful prospect for a country that has the potential to be the richest in Africa. It is doing no good to Shell either.
There seems little sign that the authorities have any real idea of how to address this crisis other than through military intervention. With the rebels busily engaged in oil smuggling, financing further purchases of arms, a more imaginative approach would appear necessary before there is a complete breakdown.
IT IS, of course, too early to decide what caused nearly 100 containers to be lost from containerships in two separate and unconnected incidents in European waters last week. Some might suggest that it is merely something to be expected at this time of year and it is happening every day of the week. Old-fashioned people still cling to the notion that piling boxes seven high on deck does not demonstrate clever naval architecture.
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