"The merger, which came as a result of a boost in business, makes DP World one of the largest and most important port operators in the world," the chairman of the new group, Sultan Ahmad bin Sulayim, told a press conference on Wednesday.

Bin Sulayim said the step was taken to promote expansion of operations, forecasting that the biggest growth would be in China and India, where DP World runs a total of five ports.

Bin Sulayim also announced the merger of Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority (JAFZA) and its international arm, JAFZA International, with the view of expanding operations.

DP World replaces Dubai Ports Authority (DPA) and Dubai Ports International (DPI). It will operate two large local ports in Dubai and 16 partly or fully owned ports worldwide, CEO Muhammad Sharaf said.

DPA and DPI have been operating separately but under the same management.

DP World operates ports in the Middle East, Asia, Europe, Australia and Latin America.

New investments

Sharaf said DP World has earmarked $550 million over the next three years for direct investments, and that negotiations were underway with a number of ports around the world. He declined to provide details.

"The merger, which came as a result of a boost in business, makes DP World one of the largest and most important port operators in the world"

Sultan Ahmad bin Sulayim,
DP World chairman

DP World is projected to handle 12.5 million twenty foot equivalent units (TEUs) this year, more than double the 5.15 million TEUs handled by DPA in 2003.

In 2002, DPA launched a $1.1 billion expansion plan to boost capacity more than five times by 2020 to 21.8 million TEUs, when Dubai's Jebel Ali port will boast 82 berths, 125 quayside cranes and double the shoreline to 30km following land reclamation.

DP World is ranked as the 10th largest container operator in the world.

Jebel Ali, 25km south of the Gulf tourist and trading hub of Dubai, is the largest duty free port in the Middle East.

Dubai, part of the seven-emirate federation of the United Arab Emirates, is strategically located at the Gulf's entry, and acts as a trans-shipment hub for many goods from Asia which are then loaded onto planes bound for other parts of the Middle East and Europe.