Dubai: Gulftainer, the Sharjah-based shipping container terminal operator, expects to add a second terminal in the United States to its portfolio in the first quarter next year, Managing Director Peter Richards said on Tuesday.

Gulftainer, which operates terminals in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Lebanon and Brazil, announced last week that it has signed a 35 year lease for Port Canaveral, Florida, its first US terminal. It will start operations at the port, which it estimates has an annual capacity of 200,000 TEUs, or the equivalent of 200,000 20-foot-long shipping containers, from July 1.

In 2006, DP World sold terminal operations in six US ports after political and public pressure over security concerns of an Arab-state based company operating the ports.

Gulftainer’s entry in the US market has seen it be approached by “three or four entities” looking for a partnership to operate other ports in the country. Richards said by phone that some of the entities have proposed joint ventures and equity investments.

He said the next US port is likely to come in the first quarter next year along with a terminal in Africa. He declined to state specifically where. By 2020, Richards said Gulftainer could be operating as many as five terminals in the US and a string of others in South America in countries like Argentina, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.

Richards expects Port Canaveral will handle 50,000 TEUs in the first year, 100,000 TEUs in the second year and 150,000 TEUs in the third. Gulftainer believes that with $100 million (Dh367 million) of investment the port can handle 750,000 TEUS, despite the proximity of ports in Miami, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay.

“We will be as big as Miami and as big as Jacksonville in years to come,” Richards said.

Last year, Port Miami handled 876,708 TEUs and Jacksonville processed 936,973 TEUs.

“I’m vey bullish on cargo volumes,” Richards said.

Gulftainer is hopeful that a proposed rail link to Port Canaveral will be backed by the local community, which has voiced its concerns of the environmental impact of the construction.

“For us, it’s whether Canaveral wants to stay purely a regional port with the rail link or a countrywide port with the rail link,” Richards said.

“It’s very important for the port,” he also said.

Gulftainer has a clause in its contract to exit Canaveral if the rail link is not built; however, Richards said the company “is not looking at utilising it.” Richards said the rail link could be built by 2017 or 2018.