One of the largest port operators in the world has registered an entity in New Zealand, fuelling speculation about a possible entry into the market.
Emirati multinational logistics company DP World, which has more than 100,000 employees across 75 countries, including container terminal operations in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, has reportedly expressed interest in Ports of Auckland (POAL) for a number of years.
According to the NZ Herald, the company made an unsolicited bid to acquire the port for $1 billion in 2021. Discussions also reportedly occurred about DP World taking a lease to operate the facility alongside other investment partners, including the NZ Super Fund.
Auckland mayor Wayne Brown initially opposed the idea of an operating lease, as it would frustrate his desire to return waterfront land used by the port for public use. However, he now says he’s open-minded. Brown has continued with work to explore ownership options, which he said started under the previous mayor, Phil Goff.
The Maritime Union of NZ (MUNZ) fiercely opposes any privatisation.
Last week, the Auckland council released early work by Eke Panuku, which produced a report suggesting possible uses for the port land, including examples like an urban beach and tidal pool, a Te Ao Māori showcase and an exhibition space.
The urban regeneration agency recommended taking a staged approach to any development, with the first stage centred on Queens Wharf, Captain Cook Wharf and Marsden Wharf. The earlier NZ Herald report suggested DP World would be comfortable freeing up the wharves as part of any lease, although the company didn’t comment or confirm this.
Port sector sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, speculated that DP World had registered an entity in NZ to pursue opportunities in Auckland and potentially also Lyttelton Port Company (LPC) in Christchurch.
The Christchurch council last year signed off on a process to assess its commercial holdings in a bid to extract more value, including reviewing ownership models for its trading companies to give councillors options to consider as part of the next long-term plan.
DP World Logistics Australia was registered with the NZ Companies Office as an overseas company on July 11, less than a month ago.
Approached for comment, DP World has yet to comment on the purpose of the NZ-registered entity and its plans, if any, for future NZ operations.
Meanwhile, work on the future of POAL continues.
While Eke Panuku was looking at potential uses, consultants Flagstaff and GHD Engineering were advising the council on how the port could operate on a smaller footprint and the process of seeking expressions of interest.
Last week, Brown said he was open-minded about the best ownership solution, and he was interested in hearing from MUNZ, port users and councillors.
Any change to the status quo was likely to be considered as part of the new 10-year budget process starting later this year.