After 40 years, Chiquita Brands International is leaving the state port for the Port of New Orleans.
Chiquita carriers in Gulfport received word by letter from Scott Nerell, Chiquita's director of North American operations. Chiquita's lease at the port expires in July. The letter says Chiquita will move later this year, when its fleet is replaced with "newer, larger and more modern container vessels" that will serve the Gulf and Florida markets.
Chiquita's shipping arm, Great White Fleet Liner Services, has engaged Mediterranean Shipping Company in a vessel sharing agreement to ship cargo in "more modern ships" and expand cargo capacity.
According to the Associated Press, Chiquita representatives joined Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal for a news conference about the move.
In Gulfport, Chiquita employed about 80 local International Longshoremen Association union members during its weekly call.
Chiquita directly employed 20 in its state port offices.
Other carriers and service companies on the Coast also relied on the banana importer for business. Port figures show that Chiquita, one of four major tenants, shipped 635,000 tons of cargo through Gulfport in 2013 – 30.5 percent of the total tonnage.
Chiquita's lease at the state port expires in July, but could be extended for a short time. The company's move comes while the port undergoes a $570 million restoration and expansion funded with federal money that requires 1,200 permanent full-time jobs be added. However, the port's job numbers have shrunk since Hurricane Katrina.
Nelson Davis, co-owner of Services International in Gulfport, said Chiquita provides about 70 percent of his company's business, which employs a total of 10 people.
"I'm not mad with Chiquita," Davis said. "I'm angry with the state port for (the restoration) going on nine years and hundreds of millions of dollars and nothing's done."
The Mississippi Development Authority is overseeing the port expansion and restoration. It will not be completed until 2017.
The port's executive director, Jonathan Daniels, said he had not seen Chiquita's letter. Daniels said Wednesday morning that he expected a conference call with Chiquita and will provide details afterward.