New allegations, new defenses in port brouhaha

| 2/23/2006

As a Senate committee began looking into a deal that will give operating control of six key U.S. ports to a company owned by a Middle Eastern government, President Bush went on the defensive, saying that “people don’t need to worry” about the security of the ports.

“The deal wouldn’t go forward if we were concerned about the security for the United States of America,” he told reporters during a press conference.

But some say the administration may not have been concerned enough about security when it approved the deal.

The Associated Press reported new allegations that the White House had made a secret deal with Dubai Ports World – the United Arab Emirates-owned company at the center of the storm – before approving its takeover of operations at six American ports.

The AP claimed to have obtained documents showing that the Bush administration required the company to pledge its cooperation in future U.S. investigations, but it did not require the company to commit to other, more routine restrictions.

While the company did agree to reveal upon demand documents related to the “foreign occupational direction” of its business at U.S. ports, the documents do not require it to keep copies of its business records on U.S. soil, The AP reported.

The AP also reported that Dubai Ports World’s COO, Edward Bilkey, said the company would do whatever the Bush administration wants to enhance shipping security. Bilkey said he plans to work in Washington to persuade skeptical lawmakers to approve the deal.

Meanwhile, other groups were voicing their own concerns. The North Jersey Herald & News, a Passaic, NJ, newspaper, reported that truckers and longshoremen at the Port Newark Container Terminal were nervous about the deal.

Monte Pryor, a trucker from Elizabeth, NJ, told the Herald & News that he feared for his safety at the port because of U.A.E.’s ties to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“Anything can come into this port now,” he said. “I’ll be hauling it around and it could blow me away.”

Supporters of the deal claim that those types of fears are unfounded and are signs of bigotry toward the Middle East.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that foreign government ownership of port companies is not as unusual as it seems.

APL, which manages terminals in Oakland, Los Angeles, Seattle and Alaska, is owned by the NOL Group, which is in turned owned by the Singapore government.

And Cosco Container Lines, which operates a terminal at the Port of Long Beach, is partly owned by the Chinese government.