Port can handle odd lots

GULFPORT - The state port at Gulfport has seen its containerized shipping volume return to pre-Katrina levels, but other segments have lagged because of the destruction of warehouses and freezers.

A 650-foot ship sailing from Scotland helped bring in some more business last week, a "project cargo" shipment of five heavy-lift cranes bound for high-rise construction projects throughout the Midwest that were offloaded here in about 12 hours.

"All of the project shipments are usually one-time events, but it is a niche cargo," said Don Allee, the port's executive director. "If you develop the ability to handle oddly shaped, odd-weight pieces, then you become designated a project-cargo port. It's just one more niche wrinkle for the port of Gulfport."

Project cargo includes outsized or strangely shaped pieces. They can be disassembled for shipping, as the cranes were in this shipment. It's considered breakbulk cargo, the segment that suffered with the loss of the poultry and forestry-product facilities.

Allee said the port has handled similar shipments in the past, including huge pieces bound for the Nissan plant in Canton, but ironically finds itself in better position to do more of that work since Katrina destroyed much of its infrastructure.

The huge cranes were offloaded onto specialized transport equipment in the area on West Pier where the freezer facilities used to stand.

"Prior to Katrina, it could have been that we didn't have room to work this ship," Allee said. "... Not to say that prior to Katrina we (wouldn't) have found a way to handle it on East Pier or something like that, but we didn't have a hard time figuring out how to work the vessel."

The port's pilots and stevedores have bemoaned their lack of work with the drop-off in traffic. Allee said this recent shipment puts money in the port's coffers, as well as the pockets of the workforce.

Allee said success with this project will put the port on the radar screen for future shipments.

"You really have to chase this kind of business because it's not on regular schedule," he said, "but we're going to continue to pursue project cargo."