Modern Terminals Ltd's (MTL) top executive yesterday dismissed reports that the company had plans to invest up to five billion yuan (about HK$4.9 billion) in Shanghai's Yangshan port at the mouth of the Yangtze River. MTL managing director Erik Bogh Christensen said the mainland company formed to manage the project had yet to ask for official expressions of interest or bids to operate the mammoth 50-berth project. He had 'no idea' where the value of MTL's reported investment had come from. 'We are in a long queue with seven to nine other companies which have informally shown interest in the project,' he said. '[Shanghai] came to Hong Kong in the second half of last year and we all offered non-solicited interest, but they have not asked for official expressions. 'For the first half of this year, I do not expect Shanghai to give anything away. We have no idea how much the investment will be but, with Shanghai's potential for growth, it is a project in which everyone will be interested.' A company called Hutchison International Ports was also reported to be bidding for the project, as was Singapore's PSA and Anglo-Dutch liner company P&O Nedlloyd, a sister company of P&O Ports. An official with Hutchison Whampoa's international port development arm, Hutchison Port Holdings (HPH), said: 'We do not comment on future port development strategies.' Construction has started on the 52-berth project, which includes a 27.5km bridge to link the terminals with a 45.5-square-kilometre staging area on the mainland. The cost of the 20-year project has been estimated at up to US$18 billion. According to an official at the Shanghai Deepwater Construction Headquarters, the organisation commissioning the project's infrastructure contracts, it has yet to seek official expressions or bids for terminal operations. Beijing, conscious of keeping terminal costs down and securing long-term business for its huge capital expenditure project, is known to be considering an alternate business model for Yangshan than it has used at other ports. Rather than let foreign operators buy what for the most part has been a minority stake in mainland container berths, China has been said to be leaning towards leasing the facilities to the terminal operating arms of major shipping lines. Carriers such as Orient Overseas Container Line, Maersk Sealand, Hanjin Shipping and P&O Nedlloyd have such subsidiaries and it is thought leasing to them would secure the volumes carried by their liner shipping divisions. HPH would be highly unlikely to bid for any contract that did not offer a stake in the terminals, as in the past a top executive has said it always looked to own at least part of the ports it managed. Mr Christensen said: '[Beijing] is under pressure from the shipping lines, especially [China Ocean Shipping Co] to seriously consider the new business model. 'But it is also under pressure from the terminal operators who are suggesting that is not the best way to do things. Obviously, we are hopeful of convincing them that MTL is the best way forward when the time comes.' Shanghai saw a 35 per cent jump in container throughput last year to 8.61 million boxes, moving the port past Kaohsiung into third place in the global rankings.