Rep. Hunter Calls for Probe Into UAE Deal to Run Port Canaveral

Wednesday, 30 Jul 2014 11:18 AM

By Drew MacKenzie

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Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter wants the Obama administration to investigate a Middle East-based company that has just signed a long-term contract to manage a leading U.S. port.

Gulftainer, a privately owned cargo terminal operator with its headquarters in the United Arab Emirates, agreed to a 35-year deal with Florida’s Port Canaveral, one of the busiest cruise ports in the world, The Washington Times reported.

Although UAE is seen as a friend of the United States, the emirates has also been linked to funds tied to terrorism, including the 9/11 attacks, raising fears of a potential security breach at the port in the future.

Hunter has written to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew urging the department’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which oversees national security risks of such deals, investigate the Port Canaveral contract, the Times reported.

"It is critical that — before this agreement proceeds — CFIUS determines whether a terminal operation agreement with Gulftainer presents any risk or impact to U.S. national security," wrote Hunter, who oversees port security as chairman of the House Transportation’s maritime transportation subcommittee.

The port’s chief executive officer, John Walsh, recently said that the Gulftainer deal is central to its expansion goals, which includes turning its $5 million annual cargo business into a $100 million enterprise.

But the Times said less than a decade ago Congress, citing security reasons, rejected a plan to have Dubai Ports World, also based in UAE, to enter the U.S. port market.

Hunter’s father, Duncan L. Hunter, fought the DP World deal and introduced legislation forcing American ports and other strategic assets to be returned to American control, according to the Times.

"It is my understanding that the agreement marks the first time a Middle Eastern company will fully operate a U.S. cargo terminal," said the younger Hunter, who took over his father’s California seat in 2009, in his letter to Lew.

"Understanding that companies based in other countries and global regions undertake port responsibilities mirroring the agreement with Gulftainer, a review by CFIUS, as being requested, is not for the purpose of immediately terminating the agreement but rather making the appropriate determinations in the interest of U.S. national security."

Gulftainer, the largest terminal operator in the Middle East, operates inland transportation and freight companies in countries with political turmoil, such as Pakistan, Turkey and Russia, the Times said.

The U.S. Coast Guard has been alerted to the contract and is expecting Gulftainer to send them their security plans for review, said Stephen West, supervisor for the U.S. Coast Guard at Port Canaveral.

"The regulations we impose on port companies are pretty substantial," West told the Times. "They are shooting to start operating in March of 2015, and they need to submit to us their security plans at least 60 days before that."

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