GULFPORT — Chiquita Brands International Inc., a major importer of bananas, has returned to its pre-Hurricane Katrina docking space at the Port of Gulfport after four years of restoration work.
The first post-Katrina shipment of fruit arrived Sept. 2 at the port’s West Pier, which was heavily damaged by the storm in August 2005. The company had been forced to use other berths in the interim.
Tony Carrana, Chiquita’s operations manager for the Gulf of Mexico, said the company’s return to its preferred berth will result in more efficient operations.
“This is a major milestone in the reconstruction process,” said Don Allee, chief executive of the Mississippi State Port Authority.
The $51 million rebuilding project at the West Pier, where two docking berths have been fully restored and opened, continues with work on a third berth expected to be finished in 2010.
The previous berths, built in the 1950s, could handle weights of just 400 to 500 pounds a square foot. The replacements can handle a thousand pounds per square foot, Allee said.
According to the United Nations Conference on World Trade and Development, the United States takes in about 26 percent of the world’s annual banana imports. North American banana imports come mainly from Central and South America.
According to port agency figures, bananas account for 74 percent of the total annual imported freight into Gulfport.