Chiquita will sail Monday evening into the State Port of Gulfport for the first time in almost two years.
Chiquita’s return will restore about 40 full-time jobs to the International Longshoremen Association Local 1303, the union that loads and unloads cargo at the port. After 40 years, the fruit company departed in late 2014 for the Port of New Orleans. The port’s executive director, Jonathan Daniels, said Chiquita has signed a new lease that runs for 40 years, including renewal options.
Chiquita’s return will mean several firsts for the port.
This will be the first time union operators will use the port’s new rail-mounted gantry cranes to unload a ship. The three cranes, made in China, cost about $10 million each. Chiquita also will be the first tenant to use a portion of the restored and expanded West Pier.
Daniels said enough of the pier is paved for Chiquita to unload its cargo. Electrical connections and other work has been finished to accommodate the company. Chiquita will have the south end of a huge warehouse, while work continues on the north end.
The Chiquita ship being unloaded will carry more than twice the number of containers that previous Chiquita ships hauled, Daniels said. The vessel will be loaded with craft-liner board and other products for its southbound departure.
Once union operators are comfortable with the cranes, Daniels said, unloading and loading times should decrease substantially because they are more efficient than the old harbor cranes.
Chiquita was docking in New Orleans before it became a 40-year tenant in Gulfport. The company left amid the port’s $570 million West Pier restoration and expansion undertaken after Hurricane Katrina.
Daniels said Chiquita will sail into the port once a week, as it previously did. Dole also will have a ship docked at the port for unloading Monday. Dole was the only cargo carrier remaining after Chiquita departed, but the port has taken on other new tenants on the East Pier.
Daniels said, “It will be an extremely exciting time with Dole and Chiquita working simultaneously.”
West Pier work should be completed in the third quarter of 2017. Meanwhile, Daniels said, tenants will continue to adjust and move as needed to accommodate construction.