Time to knuckle down!

For a number of years Ron Widdows, CEO of APL, could see the shortsightedness of U.S. port authorities, and with but few exceptions those port officials still can’t see the forest for the trees. Outsiders can, however.

In recent months, big-time investors, after taking note of earlier references likening container terminals to ‘gold mines’, are beginning to walk away with all the marbles. Monied groups, not formerly identified with container terminals, are spending large amounts for outmoded terminal operations. You’d think that those investors, who had shown no prior interest in container terminals, actually saw a future for the maritime industry. Those investors do indeed see a future in container terminal operations, and it seems as though almost everyone else does, too. Everyone, that is, except those sitting right in the middle of the action … the port authorities themselves. While port officials are sitting on their hands here’s what those investors are putting together.

1. When political pressure forced DP World to sell off the U.S. terminals it had purchased from P & O Ports North America, American International Group, the giant U.S. insurer, entered the picture and closed on terminal operations in NY/NJ, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Miami, Tampa and New Orleans, along with stevedoring operations in 16 locations along the East and Gulf Coasts. Since that surprising acquisition, AIG has purchased two more port operations and has become the largest port operator in the U.S.

2. The $ 100 billion Ontario Teachers Pension Fund, in a $ 2.4 billion deal has acquired four terminal operations from Orient Overseas Container Line , including two in Vancouver, B.C., the Global Terminal in Jersey City, NJ and the New York Container Terminal at Howland Hook on Staten Island.

3. Maher Terminals, the largest container terminal operator in the NY/NJ complex, has agreed to sell its Port Newark Container Terminal to an affiliate of the AIG Global Investment Group. RREEF Alternative Investments, the real estate investment arm of Deutsche Bank, has agreed to purchase PNCT, the terminal that handles more than 40 percent of the region’s cargo at its 450-acre terminal in Elizabeth City.

4. AIG, in partnership with Lincolnshire Management, has announced that Highstar Harbor Holdings, an affiliate of AIG Highstar Capital, entered into a definitive agreement to purchase AMPORTS, Inc., the operator of ports in California, Maryland, Georgia, and on both coasts of Mexico.

5. And just last week, AIG Highstar Capital agreed to purchase MTC Holdings, the parent of Marine Terminals Corp. “We are pleased to have the opportunity to add MTCH to our diversified portfolio of North American port operators,” AIG’s managing director said.

[Do you suppose these investors know something that port officials don’t know?]