The mainland port operation arm of Hutchison Whampoa has made a preliminary commitment to operate a two-berth bulk port handling iron ore in Dalian. 'We signed a framework agreement in which Hutchison indicates its interest to participate in the project. But we have yet to draw out the details,' said a spokeswoman for the state-owned Dalian Port Group. 'We are running the project at the moment but our direction is to set up joint ventures with foreign investors.' Hutchison confirmed that it had signed a letter of intent with Dalian Port Group. The project, with a quay-length of 434 metres and water-depth of 23 metres, can accommodate the latest generation of bulk vessels of more than 300,000 deadweight tonnes. The first berth, with a designed capacity of 10 million tonnes a year, has been operational since June. The spokeswoman said a second berth would be added if demand catches up, boosting annual handling capacity to 20 million tonnes. She declined to disclose the investment amount. 'There's strong demand for a big iron-ore handling facility in Dalian. We see strong iron-ore imports for the steel industry in the nearby cities,' said the spokeswoman. Before the port was in service, only small bulk ports capable of berthing vessels of less than 100,000 deadweight tonnes were available. Iron ore moved by big ocean-going vessels had to be unloaded at Qingdao and Ningbo before being moved to Dalian in smaller ships.