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Egypt govt to buy Sawiris’ Taba Heights Marina, Orascom to remain operator

Showpiece South Sinai marina may see mixed tourism and commercial shipping as the government plans to buy but keep management in private hands

Bassem Abo Alabass, Tuesday 2 Oct 2012
Samih Sawiris tells Ahram Online he is willing to sell South Sinai marina (Photo: Reuters)
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The Egyptian government is planning to buy Samih Sawiris' showpiece Taba Heights Marina in South Sinai and use it for touristic and commercial purposes under private sector management, sources involved in the negotiations have told Ahram Online.

No date has yet been set for the deal.

If sold by Sawiris' Orascom Development Holding (ODH), the marina in the southeast corner of the Sinai peninsula will come under the control of Egypt's maritime authorities. This could allow a greater range of shipping activities, such as a regular passenger boat link with neighbouring Jordan.

According to transport law, only ports which are under the direct authority of the maritime transport department can be legally used for commercial purposes.

"This marina will fall under the control of Red Sea Ports Authorities," Sayed Hediya, the head of Egypt's Maritime Transport Sector, told Ahram Online, confirming that this would allow an expansion of operations, potentially including passenger ships.

Taba Heights finally reopened on Saturday after a 16-month suspension of operations prompted by a Governmental decree.

Speaking to Ahram Online by telephone on Sunday, tourism minister Hisham Zaazou said that the government now wishes to regain ownership of the 50-berth marina and the land it sold to ODH in the early 1990s.

Zaazou added that the marina will be bought from ODH and operated by a private contractor reporting to the government via a so-called Public Private Partnership. Negotiations are still in their early stages.

ODH chairman Samih Sawiris told Ahram Online that he had rejected previous government offers for Taba Heights but was now willing to agree a sale.

"At the beginning, I was not sure about the operation of this port by a government authority and whether they were qualified to look after tourists," said Sawiris, who was listed Egypt's seventh richest man by Forbes magazine last year.

But the decision to have a private company operate the port made Sawiris revisit his position, and he says ODH will likely win the tender to manage the Marina.

"We believe nobody will bid against us because other bidders will have to cover the initial investment costs," Sawiris explained.

According to Sawiris, instead of ODH paying the government a periodic operation fee to run the port, these payments will be set against the price at which the company sells the Marina. This would mean no money would actually change hands in the deal.

"It is purely a legal way to keep us working," Sawiris added

Boating was frozen in June 2011 after Swiss-based ODH was accused of allowing commercial vessels to use the marina, allegedly breaking the terms of its operating license from Egypt's transport ministry which stipulates that only yachts, water sports and entertainment vessels are permitted. 

Taba Heights Marina is part of Taba Heights, ODH's second self‐sufficient resort town and home to six top-end hotels.

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