Vietnamese seaports are attracting more interest from foreign investors following the Government's decision to sell bigger State stakes in these companies.

More than 90 percent of Nha Trang Port Company's stakes went unsold after its IPO in May, while Quang Ninh Port Company and Hai Phong Port Company sold only six to seven percent each. Vietnam National Shipping Lines (Vinalines)' IPO also witnessed disappointing results.

Experts blamed the failures on the fact that the State still holds majority stakes (75 percent) in the equitised companies, making them unappealing to investors, particularly foreign partners.

However, the Ministry of Transport has ordered Vinalines to build a plan to reduce State capital invested in these firms. All seaports in the country will be equitised. The State will only retain majority stakes in seven big ports: Hai Phong, Quang Ninh, Da Nang, Sai Gon, Can Tho, Nghe Tinh and Cam Ranh.

Regarding the four key ports (Hai Phong, Quang Ninh, Da Nang and Sai Gon), the State will only hold 51 percent of total capital instead of 75 percent. For the other three ports, the State holding will be reduced to 49 percent.

The State will also sell all of its capital invested in port companies.

Le Anh Son, General Director of Vinalines, said many investors were approaching the company and showing interest in buying stakes in the five large port operators for which Vinalines plans to launch IPOs by the end of the year.

"Some investors registered to buy up to 90 percent of Da Nang Port Company, or even the entire offering of Quang Ninh Port Company, and 49 percent of Hai Phong Port Company," Son was quoted as saying in Giao thong van tai (Transport) newspaper.

Many investors were willing to buy shares at competitive market prices, so there would be no more disappointing IPOs, he added.

Vietnam Oman Investments Joint Stock Company, a joint venture between the State of Oman and the State Capital Investment Corporation of Vietnam, recently sought to buy nearly 20 percent of State capital in Hai Phong Port Company.

Previously Sigmund Stromme, Chairman of the Nordic Business Association, suggested the Vietnamese Government allow foreign investors to buy 70-100 percent of stakes in shipping companies and port investment projects. As foreign shipping companies were the main clients of Vietnamese ports, they would want to direct the course of port management. 

Moreover, foreign ownership in waterway logistics, forwarding and related activities must be increased following Vietnam's WTO commitments.-VNA