NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Chiquita Brands International Inc. is returning its shipping operations to Gulfport, Mississippi, from the Port of New Orleans.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and Andrew Biles, Chiquita's president and CEO, made the announcement Wednesday.
Chiquita will employ 10 management and operations personnel, while providing local longshoremen additional hours lost when, after 40 years in Gulfport, the company relocated its shipping operations to New Orleans in 2014.
The company maintained ripening operations in Gulfport.
"We are pleased to return our port operations to Gulfport where our Chiquita ripening and distribution facilities are located," Biles said. "We believe that Gulfport is optimally situated to service our customers most efficiently with both north and southbound vessel services."
Chiquita's new lease with the Port of Gulfport is for an initial term of 40 years, through 2056. The company will return to its previous location in the North Harbor. Chiquita also will expand into Terminal 1, encompassing a total of 32 acres - more than double what the company previously occupied.
Chiquita will operate in a new maintenance and repair building, which was designed and planned prior to its departure. The company also will have 110,000 square feet of warehouse space in the new West Pier Transit Shed, increasing its dry-storage capacity and adding 20,000 square feet of temperature-controlled space.
The state port is expected to begin receiving Chiquita containers by mid-July, with the first vessel scheduled to arrive in August.
"Chiquita's return demonstrates the 'Port of the Future,' or the Port of Gulfport, is the right fit for companies with international shipping needs," Bryant said in a statement. "It also reinforces the fact Mississippi has a business environment that helps companies maintain their competitive edge in today's demanding economy."
The Port of New Orleans said in statement the deal to bring Chiquita back to New Orleans was struck before the company was sold to the Cutrale-Safra Groups in 2015.
"We are sorry to hear of this decision," Port CEO Gary LaGrange said. "We knew this could be a possibility following the acquisition by Cutrale-Safra. Chiquita's agreement with the Port and the State of Louisiana was with its prior owners, and we understand they have to make decisions based upon the business needs of the Cutrale-Safra Groups."
Figures from the port show 244,681 tons of bananas were shipped through New Orleans last year, accounting for 2.5 percent of total general cargo and 4.8 percent of the its container tonnage.