Published On: Thu, Jun 20th, 2019

Global Ports Holding eyeballs the cruise port in St. Maarten

cruise port

By Hilbert Haar

PHILIPSBURG – Global Ports Holding is the world’s largest operator of cruise ports. Soon it could be operating the port in Philipsburg as well, if a loosely defined group of makers and shakers gets its way. Something is brewing behind the scenes that fits with the coalition’s request for Minister Miklos Giterson (VROMI) and Cornelius de Weever (Justice) to resign.

On a usually sunny terrace somewhere in Cupecoy a group of men comes together on a regular basis – not just for drinks, but for discussions about the future of St. Maarten. From a diverse group of impeccable sources I learned that this group includes casino owner Francesco Corallo, lottery boss Robbie dos Santos, heavy equipment operator Boykie Mendez, convicted former Member of Parliament Silvio Matser, suspended MP and bribery-suspect Theo Heyliger and United Democrats MP Luc Mercelina. These days, Heyliger is obviously on the sidelines, dealing with his widely reported health issues.

The plan: the formation of a national government – one that will presumable include the National Alliance (NA) and the United St. Maarten party (USp) next to the now ruling United Democrats (UD) and the St. Maarten Christian Party (SMCP). According to my sources, rookie MP Mercelina is the driving force behind this plan. The main objective is to control the Council of Ministers, while the USp wants to get hold of the Justice Ministry.

To get a handle on this rather sensitive, yet unconfirmed, information I approached another impeccable source with one simple question: is it correct that the coalition has been considering selling the port to Global Ports Holding? This question seemed to be a reliable reference to test the waters. My sources say that the group wants to get rid of the Dutch; they don’t want their money anymore either. The solution: selling the interest in government-owned companies. Selling the port supposedly tops that list.

What I learned is that Global Ports Holding already made a presentation to the Council of Ministers – all very hush-hush. There is no deal on the table, or even a proposal, but the interest of Global Ports in St. Maarten is now simply a fact. That the Council of Ministers let Gobal Ports in for this presentation suggest at least that the coalition is considering selling the port – or a large stake in it – to a third party.

All this lends credibility to the rest of the story but sources close to the presentation wonder what – if any – problems selling out to Global Ports would actually solve. It certainly does not seem to have anything positive to offer for the long term. And what is next? Selling the airport?

Global Ports Holding is the world’s largest operator of cruise ports and it is aggressively seeking to get a foothold in the Caribbean cruise market.  In May 2018, the company inked a 15-year concession agreement with Aries SA for the operation of the cruise port in Havana, Cuba. On February 4, 2019 it signed a 30-year agreement with the government of Antigua and Barbuda for the operation of their cruise port. This deal includes financing of the construction of a new pier that is capable of receiving Oasis class cruise ships – monsters that can carry up to 5,000 passengers.

The prospectus Global Ports Holding published in 2016 reveals that the company was in talks about new agreements with ten potential cruise ports; among them were Nassau in the Bahamas and the cruise port in Havana; the latter deal is now a fact, according to the prospectus at a cost that exceeds $50 million.

Already in 2016 the company was eyeing six other cruise ports in the Caribbean; among them were Oranjestad in Aruba, Willemstad in Curacao, St. Lucia and La Romana in Dominica. St. Maarten was not on the radar yet, so maybe the group that is now aiming to sell the port took the initiative.

Global Ports Holding maintains relationships with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCCL), Carnival Cruises and MSC Cruises. “The group expects to continue to benefit, in particular, from its relationship with RCCL in expanding global markets,” the prospectus states.

What could St. Maarten expect from a potential sell out to Global Ports Holding? According to the prospectus: “Most concessions are pre-paid (with no or minimal ongoing annual concession fees), have no capital expenditure requirements (excluding general maintenance obligations) and provide the group with substantial commercial freedom to operate the terminals with a majority of the concessions allowing the group to set tariffs at its own discretion.”

In Portugal they found out how this works. In 2015 the company increased terminal fees by 10 percent and a year later it upped the prices by another 20 percent. Global Ports revenue comes among other components for 27.1 percent from terminal fees (landing fees, luggage fees and passenger security fees) and for 11.3 percent from retail activities in the port area.

It is good to note that Global Ports, again according to its prospectus, “prefers acquiring majority ownership in new ports.”

Global Ports Holding, established in 2004, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Global Investment Holdings, a company that is listed on the Bursa Istanbul. The remaining 34.37 percent is a free float on the London stock exchange.

The chairman and co-founder of Global Ports is the Turkish businessman Mehmet Kutman, who draws remuneration to the tune of almost $110,000 a year from this function. Also on the board of directors is Lord Peter Mandelson, a British Labour politician who entered the House of Lords on October 13, 2008.

Selling the port is one thing – getting a grip on the Council of Ministers and the Justice Department is of quite a different dimension. Apparently, Minister De Weever has to go because he did nothing against what is now labeled as “Dutch government infiltration in the local justice system.”

This can only refer to the establishment of the Anti Corruption Task Force TBO (Team Bestrijding Ondermijning) and to this team’s rather spectacular results.

To mention a few: the investigation at the harbor that led to the suspension of director Mark Mingo and sentencing of Member of Parliament Chanel Brownbill for tax fraud.  Then there is of course the investigation into suspended MP Theo Heyliger (for bribery) and the investigation into bribery allegations against MP Frans Richardson.

Only last week, TBO-officers arrested Dylcia Lake in the Draco-investigation that focuses on former MP Silvio Matser. While the TBO has declined to say anything about this investigation at this moment, there seems to be a link between Lake, MP Christophe Emmanuel and Matser; Lake is the managing director of his construction company.

The Cupecoy-conspirators seemingly want to put a stop to all these investigations but that won’t happen overnight since the TBO will remain in function at least until 2022 – with a possible extension into the future remaining a real possibility.


Related articles:
Opinion piece: “The trouble with sources” by Hilbert Haar


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