GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Darius Johnson knows what Chiquita cargo ships mean for his longshoremen. "It creates a lot of man hours for us," the president of the ILA Local #1303 said. "Chiquita represented one third of the man hours for our longshoremen, so their return is great news."
A news release just sent to WLOX News confirms the story WLOX.com broke Tuesday night. Chiquita's two year hiatus is over. It's cargo ships will be back at the Port of Gulfport sometime in August. For Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, "Chiquita's return demonstrates the 'Port of the Future,' or the Port of Gulfport, is the right fit for companies with international shipping needs. It also reinforces the fact Mississippi has a business environment that helps companies maintain their competitive edge in today's demanding economy."
It will almost be like Chiquita never left. The company is not only coming back, but it's also increasing its footprint at the port, with double the terminal space from before. Chiquita cargo ships will dock on the west side of the expanded port. It's containers will park in the north harbor area.
"We are pleased to return our port operations to Gulfport where our Chiquita ripening and distribution facilities are located," Andrew Biles, Chiquita's president and CEO, said. "We believe that Gulfport is optimally situated to service our customers most efficiently with both north and southbound vessel services."
Chiquita left South Mississippi for the Port of New Orleans in 2014. Two years later, the company, and the Central American fruit it hauls will once again anchor on the southern tip of Gulfport. It's a significant lease for port leaders as they continue to work on their $600 million expansion.
"We never lost sight of a possible return by Chiquita, and it is with great excitement to announce their return to Gulfport," said Jonathan Daniels, MSPA executive director and CEO. "The State of Mississippi provided no financial incentive for Chiquita to return, and that speaks for itself. Our new facilities and the efficiency of the ILA Local #1303 ultimately made the business case for the Port of Gulfport."
With a lease agreement in place, the Port of Gulfport will begin seeing Chiquita containers arriving as early as the middle of July, with the first vessel set to arrive in August.
"We're happy to have them back," the ILA president told WLOX News on the morning after port commissioners signed a 40 year lease.