Turkish court suspends privatization of Mersin port after union appeal

ANKARA (Reuters) – A Turkish court suspended the privatisation of the country’s biggest port yesterday, a day after the competition board approved the transfer of its operating rights to Singapore’s PSA and a local building firm. The state-run Anatolia news agency said Mersin Administrative Court had suspended the transfer of Mersin port, on the Mediterranean coast, after an appeal by unions. «We see the decision as a legal victory,» said the local leader of the Liman-Is union. He said the union was now deciding whether workers should continue their occupation of the port in protest at the privatization, now in its 66th day. Work is continuing at the port, but dock workers are refusing to leave once their shift is up. The court ruled the privatization went against the public interest. The state has seven days to appeal against the decision after the verdict is officially promulgated. Turkey’s Competition Board on Thursday approved the transfer of operating rights at Mersin to PSA, which operates Singapore port and is owned by the Singapore investment agency Temasek Holdings, and Akfen Insaat. The pair made the highest bid of $755 million last month in a tender to operate the port of for 36 years. If the deal clears the legal hurdles, it then has to be approved by the High Board of Privatization, which has the final say in privatization deals. Akfen Chairman Hamdi Akin said last month the partners would invest $70-$100 million in the port in the first five months after the completion of feasibility studies. The port is currently operated by the ailing state railways company TCDD, which will collect the revenues from the privatization. The port handled 16 million tons of goods last year. Separately, US-Norwegian cruise line operator Royal Caribbean Cruises and Turkish investment company Global made the top bid of 3.54 billion euros ($4.33 billion) for an Istanbul cruise ship port project, Turkey’s Maritime Organization General Manager Burhan Kulunk told Reuters.