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The Port of Gulfport was top banana on the U.S. Gulf. Now it's the leading banana port in the nation.
The Mississippi State Port Authority reached agreement in January 1997 with Turbana Corp., the fourth-largest importer of bananas into the United States, to establish Gulfport as its primary port of call in the U.S. Gulf.
For years, Chiquita and Dole Fresh Fruit have been mainstays at the port. The two banana importers moved more than 650,000 tons of bananas through the port in fiscal year 1996.
Turbana, which represents 185 banana growers, started weekly service between Gulfport and Turbo, Colombia, and Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, in February 1997. The Coral Gables, Fla.-based company suspended service to Galveston and Tampa, choosing to consolidate those operations into Gulfport.
Turbana officials expect its palletized breakbulk ships to bring 125,000 tons of bananas through the port each year, bringing Gulfport's yearly average to nearly 800,000 tons.
These companies' shipping lines, looking to offset the expense of operating refrigerated vessels northbound, also provide healthy backhauls of perishable and nonrefrigerated cargoes to Central America, including linerboard, vehicles and general cargo.
Initially, Turbana used two chambers of the port's 55,000-square-foot chiller facility to hold bananas while awaiting inland transit. The port authority has spent $4 million to improve 50,000 square feet of dock area, including converting some space to chill facilities that will be dedicated to Turbana. These facilities are expected to be operational early this year.
The port had previously expanded its dockside freezer space by 53,000 square feet, to 90,000 square feet of usable space. The $4.5-million expansion included a 3,000-square-foot blast freeze area to rapidly [TABULAR DATA …