The Mississippi State Port Authority at Gulfport sustained significant damage during Hurricane Katrina like the rest of the Gulf region. In the days following the storm, Port officials assessed the Hurricane’s severe impact, which included damage to navigational aids in the Gulfport channel, and to transit sheds and freezer facilities. Additionally, there was a complete loss of electrical power and water and sewer services.
Thanks to a combined effort with the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), the United States Coast Guard and Navy, U.S. Customs, Federal, State and local agencies, port terminal operators, P&O Ports North America Inc. and SSA Marine, the Mississippi State Port Authority (MSPA) is swiftly rebuilding the port.
Despite the extensive damage, recovery at the Port is well underway. Electricity is now available in the northeast corner of the port perimeter and will soon be available throughout the facility. Water and sewer services are nearly functional and Port users are installing temporary offices on site. On the day following the storm, it was estimated that limited port operations would not be available for months or even up to a full year. It now appears that P&O Ports and SSA Marine will be ready to resume terminal operations within a matter of days.
“We are committed to bringing the Port of Gulfport back into full operation as soon as possible,” says Donald Allee, port executive director. “With the dedicated assistance of our maritime partners and the committed response from Federal, State and local agencies, the speed of the cleanup effort has far exceeded all expectations.”
Resuming containerized business has been the priority so far in the recovery effort. Carriers Crowley, Dole Liner and the Great White Fleet (Chiquita) are involved in reconfiguring their respective terminals in preparation for resuming regularly scheduled liner operations by a target date of September 30. Road infrastructure is up and truck access through the East, West and Central entrances to the facility is clear for all traffic. Rail service to the North and South from Kansas City Southern Railroad should be available in the short term, as they received minimal damage from the storm. CSX Railroad lines have been significantly impacted, and the Port has no estimate at this time when this service will resume.
The Port's RoRo (roll-on/roll-off) ramp, which was dedicated in early August, will require further dredging before it is fully operational. A contractor dedicated to debris removal will be on site shortly.
Prior to Hurricane Katrina, the MSPA had committed nearly $250 million dollars to port improvements, including an 84-acre expansion, as part of the MSPA Master Plan Update that was approved in 2003. The improvements were to occur over a five- to seven-year period and the entire amount was aimed at water-borne commerce. As a result of Hurricane Katrina, these improvements will be accelerated and expanded. The MSPA Board of Commissioners has passed a resolution giving full authority to Allee to provide everything necessary to return the port to full service.
The $250 million port expansion project will increase significantly in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Plans are being rapidly revised and finalized and will include improved chiller and freezer capabilities, expanded container operations supported by two wharf cranes, and rubber-tired gantry equipment. Expanded dry cargo storage will be located on the East Pier, which will become the Port's break bulk and non-containerized load center.
The Mississippi State Port Authority at Gulfport is ranked as the third busiest container port in the Gulf of Mexico and ranked in the top 20 in the United States. Primary cargoes include tropical fruit, frozen poultry, ilmenite ore, livestock, aluminum and heavy lift cargoes.