x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Gulftainer plans to acquire port terminals in Russia

The port operator is set to expand into the country and considers moves into Africa, India and South America.

Gulftainer has been looking for business opportunities outside the UAE.
Gulftainer has been looking for business opportunities outside the UAE.

Gulftainer, the Sharjah port operator, plans to acquire terminals in Russia in the next 12 months after a joint venture agreement with Prominvest, the Russian state-backed investment company.

The UAE's second-largest ports operator is expanding internationally and is also considering niche opportunities in Africa, India and South America after opening its berths in the Comoros in the Indian Ocean and Iraq.

Its plans in Russia involve as much as US$500 million (Dh1.83 billion) in investments together with Prominvest, a division of Russian Technologies Corporation, after last month's signing of the joint-venture agreement in Sochi, south-west Russia, which was attended by the Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin.

Gulftainer is also considering landside logistics businesses such as inland container depots, said Peter Richards, the managing director of Gulftainer.

"In Russia, within the next 12 months I would hope to have at least two port operations under our belt and one major logistical operation," Mr Richards said.

The opportunities within Russia's ports industry is exponential, he said, since the world's 12th largest economy was still moving from bulk and general cargo terminals into containerised trade, which has revolutionised the global maritime industry.

In addition, many of the country's 41 major ports have low productivity rates, paving the way for experienced foreign firms to introduce equipment, standards and processes to boost efficiency.

"Their growth potential is huge," Mr Richards said. "They also seem to be on the road to recovery quicker than certain areas of the world in terms of the recession."

Neil Davidson, a senior ports adviser at Drewry Shipping Consultants, said many of the world's largest ports operators have until now been unable to tap into Russia's huge potential for ports.

"International operators would like to expand into Russian ports and terminals because they offer great growth potential and high profitability," Mr Davidson said.

Until recently, he added, "local Russian owners of ports and terminals also recognised how attractive their businesses are, and have kept ownership in Russian hands as a result".

Gulftainer runs terminals on Sharjah's east coast and on the Gulf, which are forecast to grow 17 per cent this year on higher volumes.

It also runs a port in Ruwais, in Abu Dhabi's Western Region.

But it has long been upstaged by DP World, the world's third-largest ports company, even as it quietly expanded its ports business internationally as well as that of its sister firm, Momentum Logistics.

Gulftainer expects to announce additional deals in other parts of the world soon, Mr Richards said, as part of its goal to grow its annual container handling volumes in the next five years, from 3 million containers a year now to more than 6 million.

"I'm sure by the end of this year we will be announcing other ventures," he said.

For its Russian expansion, Gulftainer plans to finance its activities through a combination of equity, debt from financial institutions and private investor funding, and Mr Richards said Russia was becoming a safer place for foreign investment.

"There were always concerns in the past that Russia was a difficult area to invest money in," he said. "People have started to believe that it is a place that you can safely invest."

Despite its global growth plans the company still intends to add new ports at a measured pace, Mr Richards said, and aimed to obtain at least minority stakes as well as management control in any port it became involved in.

"We're being very careful with what we do and we are not throwing money wildly. We are looking for small, niche markets that we can enter."

igale@thenational.ae