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China Merchants Said to Plan Sri Lanka Terminal Stake Purchase

China Merchants Holdings (International) Co. plans to increase its stake in an under-construction Sri Lankan container terminal, according to two people familiar with the situation.

The company, the largest shareholder in the facility, is considering acquiring at least some of Aitken Spence & Co.’s 30 percent stake as the Colombo-based partner is quitting the project, said the people who declined to be identified as the discussions are private. The Sri Lanka Port Authority may also buy some of the Spence holdings, one of the people said.

China Merchants, which owns 55 percent of the venture, in August signed an agreement to build and operate the facility in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s biggest port, because of rising Southeast Asia trade. The terminal will cost about $500 million to build and have an annual capacity of 2.4 million containers.

Hong Kong-based China Merchants wasn’t immediately able to comment, it said by e-mail. Spence’s Managing Director J.M.S. Brito was unavailable when called at his office and didn’t answer at least five calls to his mobile phones.

Sri Lanka Ports Authority Chairman Priyath Wickrama declined to comment. The state agency owns 15 percent of the terminal.

Spence is pulling out of the venture partly because of rising costs, Daily FT, a Sri Lankan newspaper, reported today, citing unidentified people.

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