Egypt aims to renegotiate Suez Canal container port deal

Egypt is trying to renegotiate an extension of an agreement worth $1.5 billion with Suez Canal Container Terminal which has a concession to run a port near the entrance to the canal, a government official said.

Ahmed Amin, an advisor to Egypt's transport minister, attended talks two weeks ago with SCCT, which is 55 percent owned by APM Terminals, part of the Maersk group.

Amin told Aswat Masriya, a news website sponsored by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, that talks in December would focus on the 14-year extension of the concession for the port, East Port Said. The extension agreement partially exempted SCCT from rent and other fees in exchange for the company building an $80 million pier.

Amin said the terms of the extension were worth more than $1.5 billion.

SCCT's commercial chief executive Lars Koch-Soelyst declined to comment on the value of the terms but said there was an ongoing dialogue to find long-term solutions.

Egypt is currently digging a new Suez Canal beside the existing 145-year-old waterway linking Europe with Asia. The government hopes the $8 billion project will stimulate global trade and generate badly-needed revenues and foreign reserves following a downturn caused by three years of political turmoil.

Amin said the government and SCCT had also agreed to begin using a side channel giving small container ships in the Mediterranean direct access to East Port Said, separate from the Suez Canal entrance.

Koch-Soelyst said that would free the port from the constraints of the canal's convoy system and increase its weekly capacity to 80 vessels from 50.

"Vessels cannot access the terminal when the ships are heading north. They can only access the terminal during time gaps during the day," he said. "We are using these intervals to the maximum."

SCCT also wants Egypt to deepen the main port to 16 metres from the current 15.5 metres to allow bigger ships to anchor, but the government has said that must wait until the dredging of the new Suez Canal is completed next year.

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