Gulftainer agrees $600mn 50-year deal to operate US Port of Wilmington
Gulftainer has finalised a $600mn 50-year concession with the State of Delaware in the USA to operate and develop the Port of Wilmington, significantly expanding the company’s global footprint and reach.
The agreement, signed by Gulftainer’s subsidiary GT USA, will see an expected investment of up to $600mn in the port to upgrade and expand the terminal and to turn it into one of the largest facilities of its kind on the Eastern Seaboard.
The port deal represents the largest operation ever run by a UAE company in the United States, as well as the largest investment ever by a private UAE company in the country.
At a public signing ceremony held in Wilmington, Governor John Carney of Delaware signed the agreement with Badr Jafar, Chairman of the Executive Board of Gulftainer, in the presence of Delaware Secretary of State Jeffrey Bullock and other state officials, as well as H.E. Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE Ambassador to the US and other dignitaries.
The 50-year concession follows a year of negotiations and a thorough evaluation of Gulftainer’s capabilities globally, including in the USA, where it currently operates the Canaveral Cargo Terminal in Port Canaveral, Florida and provides services to the U.S. Armed Forces as well as the US Space Industry.
The Delaware concession agreement completes a preliminary agreement between Gulftainer and the State of Delaware, as well as the completion of a formal review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), granting Gulftainer exclusive rights to manage the Port.
Gulftainer plans to invest up to $600mn in the port, including $400mn on a new 1.2mn TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units) container facility at DuPont’s former Edgemoor site, which was acquired by the Diamond State Port Corporation in 2016.
Badr Jafar, Chairman of Gulftainer’s Executive Board, said: “We are proud to be making this long-term commitment to the State of Delaware, its community and its economy. This landmark agreement builds on Gulftainer’s 43-year track record of delivering excellence and dependability in ports and logistics operations around the world, and we are confident that this public-private partnership will propel the Port of Wilmington towards becoming the principal gateway of the Eastern Seaboard.”
Mr Jafar added: “Since Gulftainer’s entry into the US through our operations in Port Canaveral in 2015, we have discovered major untapped potential in this sector and we will continue to look for attractive investment opportunities in the region.”
Driver shortages: Why the industry needs to be worried
While driver shortages are a global problem, with a recent survey from the International Road Transport Union suggesting that driver shortages are expected to increase by 25% year-on-year across its 23 member countries, the issue has very much made itself felt for UK businesses in recent weeks.
A perfect storm of factors, which many within the industry have been wary of, and warning about, for months, have led to a situation wherein businesses are suddenly facing significant difficulties around transporting goods to shelves on time, as well as inflated operating costs for doing so.
What’s more, the public may also see price rises as a result due to demand outmatching supply for certain product lines, which in turn brings with it the risk of customer dissatisfaction and a hit to brand and stakeholder reputation. Given that this price inflation has been speculated to hit in October, when the extended grace period on Brexit customs checks comes to an end, the worst may be yet to come.
"Steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole"
That said, we have already been hearing reports of service interruption due to lack of driver availability, meaning that volumes aren’t being transported, or delivered, to required schedules and lead times. A real-world example of this occurred on the weekend of 4-6 June with convenience retailer Nisa, with deliveries to Nisa outlets across the UK affected by driver shortages to its logistics provider DHL.
But where has this skills shortage stemmed from?
Supply is the primary issue. Specifically, the number of available EU drivers has decreased by up to 15,000 drivers due to Brexit alone, and this has been further exacerbated by drivers returning to their home country during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as changes to foreign exchange rates making UK a less desirable place to live and work. This, alongside the recent need to manage IR35 tax changes, has also led to significant inflation in driver and transport costs.
COVID-19 complications have also meant that there have been no HGV driver tests over the past year, meaning the expected 6,000-7,000 new drivers over the past year have not appeared. With the return of the hospitality sector we understand that this is a significant challenge with, for instance, order delivery lead times being extended.
It is little surprise, therefore, that the Road Haulage Association (RHA) earlier this month became the latest in a long line of industry spokespeople to write to the government about the driver shortage for trucks. The letter echoed the view held by much of the industry, that the cause of this issue is both multi-faceted and, at least in some aspects, long-standing.
So, many in the industry are in agreement as to the driving factors behind this crisis. But what can be done?
Simply enough, outside of businesses completely reorganising their supply chain network, external support is needed. In the short-term, the government should consider providing the industry with financial aid, and this can also be supported more widely with legislative change.
Specifically, immigration policy could be updated to place drivers on the shortage occupations list, which would go some way towards easing the burden created by foreign drivers returning to their home countries. Looking elsewhere, government should also look for ways to increase the availability of HGV driver tests after the blockage created by the coronavirus lockdowns.
Looking more long-term, steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole. As it stands, multiple sources suggest that the average age of truck drivers in the UK is 48, with only one in every hundred drivers under the age of 25. We must therefore do more to increase the talent pipeline coming into the industry if we are to offset more significant skills shortages further down the line.
On the back of a turbulent year for the supply chain industry, it has become increasingly clear that the long-foretold shortage of drivers is now having a tangible and, in places, crippling effect on supply chains.
Drivers, and the wider supply chain industry, have rightly been recognised for the seismic role they played in keeping the nation moving and fed over the past year under unprecedented strain. If this level of service is to continue, we must now see Government answer calls to provide the support the sector needs, and work hand-in-hand with the industry to find a solution. If we do not see concrete action to this effect soon, we are likely to be in for a turbulent few months.
Rob Wright is executive director at SCALA, a leading provider of management services for the supply chain and logistics sector