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Port of Wilmington privatization deal promises more jobs, stable economic future

18 September, 2018 | Xerxes Wilson

Delaware officials on Tuesday signed a final agreement with Emirati port operator Gulftainer to privatize the Port of Wilmington.

Gov. John Carney and Gulftainer officials signed a document commemorating the agreement in front of a crowd of state and local government officials.

Badr Jafar, chairman of Gulftainer’s executive board, said the deal and accompanying growth in the state’s port business will "firmly establish Wilmington as the largest logistics facility on the Delaware River and the leading food gateway on the East Coast."

Carney said the deal would secure and grow the state’s current maritime workforce and blunt Delaware’s loss of "blue-collar jobs" over recent years.

"I come here with a big smile … knowing that what we are going to do here today is to secure the jobs of the people and the families who work here at the port and those who are going to work in the years to come," Carney said.

Under terms of the 50-year deal, a U.S. subsidiary of Gulftainer will take over operations of the existing port of Wilmington at the confluence of the Christina and Delaware rivers.

It will invest some $600 million in upgrades and build a new container-handling terminal on the Delaware at Edgemoor, officials have said.

State officials estimate the takeover could double the 5,700 port and maritime-related jobs in Delaware.

A spokesman for Carney declined to provide a copy of the agreement but said it will be made available after a legal review.

The agreement takes effect in the coming two weeks, officials said. The state will continue to own the existing port property as well as the Edgemoor property, which was once DuPont Co.’s Edge Moor chemical production facility. The state bought that property for $10 million in 2016.

Per the agreement, the state will receive concession payments from Gulftainer totaling about $10 million a year in the coming decades.

The company, based in the United Arab Emirates, opened its first U.S. container facility in Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 2015. The company has ports in the UAE, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Brazil and is a subsidiary of the Crescent Enterprises, a privately held UAE conglomerate.

"The underlying potential of the north American market has long been an aspiration for Gulftainer," Jafar, the company chairman, said.

Jafar said the company will double the container throughout of the current port to "underpin" the development at Edgemoor.

The agreement sets a goal for a 75 percent increase in traffic for noncontainerized goods like liquids and automobiles, officials have said.

Secretary of State Jeffrey Bullock, who chairs the port’s operating board, said the kind of jobs created will "secure the state’s future."

"You can still get big things done in our state," Bullock said.