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Arab Port Deal Distorted for Political Gain

by William Hughes Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2006 at 5:35 PM

Recently, 8,600 U.S. companies have been taken over by foreign ownership, while 20 percent of all U.S. assets are held by foreigners. The politicians were silent. Now, a United Arab Emirates’ enterprise will soon be operating stevedoring companies in six U.S. ports, including Baltimore’s. Its Mayor, Martin O’Malley, almost broke a blood vessel complaining. However, he didn’t say a word while the preceding British outfit was doing the work. Go figure!

A deal to permit an Arab company to do business in a number of East and Gulf coast ports in the U.S., has brought out the worst in some politicians, particularly, the Mayor of Baltimore, Martin O’Malley. He went over the top when he heard that an enterprise, Dubai Ports World, based in the United Arab Emirates, (UAE), and owned by that government, would soon be running some operations in the ports of Baltimore, New York, Newark, NJ, Philadelphia, Miami and New Orleans. The federal government has already given its approval to the proposal and said it had passed a "vigorous review," which included national security concerns. (1)

At a silly press conference, on Feb. 18, 2006, held at a waterfront site, next to blocks of ultra-luxurious condos, O’Malley, a Democratic candidate for governor of Maryland, ranted away to the TV cameras, about how it is “outrageous and irresponsible to turn over a port to any foreign government.” One of his political cronies, the pro-Iraqi War congressman, Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger (D-MD), was also present. According to the Baltimore Sun, O’Malley accused the UAE of being a “key transfer point for nuclear components on their way to North Korea, Libya and Iran.” (1) To his credit, O’Malley didn’t blast the UAE for hiding Osama bin Laden, preparing to launch WMD at the U.S., or causing the Baltimore Ravens' NFL team to miserably flop again last year.

Here's the crux of the problem: O’Malley doesn’t know what the hell he is talking about! Period! He also made a reference to the War of 1812-1814, and how the city had successfully defended itself against the British invasion and that somehow this proposed contract fits into that historic happening. That, too, is pure baloney! What O’Malley didn’t reveal at the press conference was that the organization presently in charge of much of the stevedoring operations in Baltimore is - a British-based, privately owned outfit - Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, (P&O). It has been supervising “container cargo operations at the publicly owned Seagirt and Dundalk marine terminals” for the last few years. (1) This essential fact didn’t seem to bother O’Malley’s fragile psyche. Now, however, since, the P&O has recently been purchased by Dubai Ports World for .8 billion, he has chosen to go over the proverbial edge and use the incident to make a cheap political point or two. I hope the voters will see though this ploy.

The critical point is that Dubai Ports World won't be running the port of Baltimore, or any other U.S. port for that matter. What it would be doing, as ex-Rep. Helen Delich Bentley (R-MD), a respected expert on Maritime matters, explained in a Feb. 18th letter, to the “Baltimore Sun,” is hiring the longshoremen to load and unload the cargo from the vessels. The Maryland Port Authority, an agency of the state, she underscored, would continue to “run the port of Baltimore’s public terminals and be the spokesman for the port in general.” Bentley added that this transaction only means that the “UAE’s Dubai Ports World will be the firm bidding competitively for contracts to handle cargo coming off or loading on to ships in the six ports where P&O Ports has contracts. Baltimore is one of those ports.” (2)

It is also important to emphasize that the vast majority of the cargo handling in the six U.S. ports mentioned above is done by union labor, who are locally based workers. They are card carrying members of the International Longshorman's Association (AFL-CIO), which is headquartered in New York City. This is the same union, (Local 829 ILA), that this writer belonged to, in Baltimore, back in the late 1950s. The idea that the longshoremen will somehow not be able to do the same kind of highly professional stevedoring work for Dubai, which they did for the P&O company, and other stevedoring companies before them, just doesn't fly. For the ILA member, it will be just another day's work on the docks, irrespective of who's doing the hiring.

Query! Where has O’Malley been on the important issue of foreign ownership of American industry? Recently, the bankrupt Bethlehem Steel’s sprawling Sparrows Point Plant, located on the shores of the Patapso River, just southeast of the city, was purchased by a foreign conglomerate, Mittal Steel. It is controlled by a London-based tycoon, Lakshim Mittal, a native of India. (3) If O’Malley had any national security concerns about that massive deal, he has sure kept them to himself. There was no press conference at the Sparrows Point Plant on that one. In the last ten years alone, the U.S. economy has lost a staggering “8,600 of our best companies to foreign ownership.” (4)

Here are some other shocking economic statistics for O’Malley to digest for his next camera mugging effort. In the past two decades: "The US federal deficit during the Ronald Reagan administration was Trillion and it is now Trillion. The US trade deficit has gone from 0 Billion per year to 6 Billion per year. .0 Trillion cumulatively over the past 20 years. And, Trillion of US assets are now held in foreign hands, roughly 20% of all US assets.” (4) If 20% of U.S. industry is in foreign hands today, what will it be like in another decade or two of gross indifference?

In summation, just because O’Malley is a wannabe governor for Maryland shouldn’t give him a license to distort the facts in this matter in order to manipulate the fears of voters. Foreign ownership of U.S. industries should be of concern to all. The UAE-based company running a stevedore operation in six U.S. ports shouldn't, however, be one of them, especially with the ILA members doing the work. If any good comes out of this controversy, it may be for the elected politicians, and for the public, to pay closer attention to the larger, extremely distressing, economic picture. Our country is being de-industrialized by the decisions of Wirepullers based in Washington, D.C. and on Wall St. You think global warming is going to be a problem? Just wait for this Alan Greenspan-contrived economy to collapse, and it will, unless corrective measures are immediately taken. (5)


1. “Deal Affecting Port Upsets Mayor,” by Julie Bell, Baltimore Sun, 02/19/06.

2. “Port Administration Runs Region’s Port,” Letter to the Editor of the Baltimore Sun, 02/18/06, by Helen Delich Bentley.




* The Podcasts of William Hughes' "The BillyClub" are found here:

© William Hughes 2006

William Hughes is the author of “Saying ‘No’ to the War Party” (Iuniverse, Inc.). He can be reached at:

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