NEW YORK (AP) – The ship terminals that ring New York Harbor have been offered as Exhibit A by critics who say it would be crazy to allow a United Arab Emirates company to play a major role in operating U.S. ports.

No spot on the East Coast handles so much cargo, from so many nations, so close to America’s number one terrorist target.

But a closer look at on-the-ground operations reveals limits on the influence the Arab state-owned company, Dubai Ports World, would gain over ports in New York, New Jersey and elsewhere if the deal goes through.

On much of the East Coast, the company wouldn’t control the selection of laborers at its own facilities; the work force would be supplied by the International Longshoremen’s Association.

The company wouldn’t be in charge of port security, which is handled by federal border agents, the Coast Guard, port authorities and police agencies.

And in the case of ports like the Port Newark Container Terminal – a facility five miles from the Statue of Liberty cited frequently as among the most sensitive operations included in the deal – DP World would only be a 50 percent shareholder.

Its equal partner, A.P. Moller-Maersk, is based in Denmark – the country recently assailed by Islamic extremists over cartoons in a Danish newspaper.

That a Danish company could have at least as much say in the running of the terminal underscores one of the realities of U.S. port operations.

Most are controlled at the corporate level by international partnerships, but are dominated on the ground by Americans who would likely stay in place if DP World’s takeover of the British company Peninsular & Oriental Ports North America is allowed to go ahead.

“This company would not control the ports, they would not operate the port alone,” said Thomas De Maria, executive director of the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, an agency set up to combat the influence of organized crime on the docks.

“There are a lot of people watching,” he said.

The nature of those arrangements can be seen at places like the Tioga Marine Terminal in Philadelphia, which processes 350,000 tons of cargo a year.

On Friday, dozens of longshoremen unloaded Chilean fruit on the docks, zipped it into refrigerated warehouses, and stood ready to man two giant cargo cranes towering over the Delaware River.

If its entry into the United States goes forward, DP World would have an American partner in Philadelphia too. Delaware River Stevedores, the company that operates the terminal, is half owned by SSA Marine, of Seattle.

The end result of the joint venture means that, on a day-to-day basis, “We make our own purchases, we make our own decisions,” said Roger Youngren, the company’s vice president, who hails from Michigan.

Chain-link fence, barb-wire and cameras guard the perimeter of the 96-acre complex. Terminal manager Patrick Kryszczak said 98 percent of the containers unloaded are opened and inspected by federal customs agents.

Opponents of the DP World deal have said security at U.S. ports is thin enough that an ill-intentioned terminal operator could help bring illicit cargo, terrorist operatives or weapons into the country without notice.

P & O Ports, the company being acquired by DP World, is no small player in the industry: It has facilities in at least 20 U.S. cities, from Corpus Christi, Texas, to Portland, Maine.

At one of its largest operations, in Baltimore, it is the sole operator of the Seagirt Marine Terminal, which handles an estimated 4 million tons of cargo last year.

DP World is owned by the emirate of Dubai, an outwardly pro-Western port city that is emerging as a tourist playground, but has also been assailed as a hub of smuggling and shady banking transactions.

Some of the company’s prospective American partners have expressed discomfort with the sale.

A Florida company filed a lawsuit seeking to block DP World from becoming its partner in a cargo terminal in Miami.

Federal lawmakers have suggested enacting a ban on foreign ownership of companies that manage shipping terminals, but that could be problematic. Foreign-owned firms already play a major role in most U.S. ports.

International Longshoremen’s Association spokesman James McNamara said union members want the DP World takeover halted until there is a more thorough investigation.

“They are concerned about the safety of the containers coming in. They want proper background checks of cargo. They want to have their fears satisfied,” he said.

Associated Press writers Kathy Matheson in Philadelphia, Alan Sayre in New Orleans and Alex Dominguez in Baltimore contributed to this report.

AP-ES-02-26-06 1241EST

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.