Containers and cruise ships buoy port
Hurricanes, a national recession, the oil disaster in the Gulf – the Port of New Orleans has been through a lot during the last few years. But lately this cornerstone of the local economy has had more good news to report.
General cargo was up nine percent for the first half of 2010, while the volume of container cargo shot up 60 percent compared to the same period last year.
“Ports are often seen as being on the leading edge of the economy, and I think that’s what’s happening,” says port spokesman Chris Bonura. “We’re seeing a recovery in cargo numbers, and we’re doing what we can to build new opportunities and create new jobs here.”
The rebound comes amid opposing trends. Iron and steel are traditionally the port’s largest commodities, and these shipments have been down as building projects trailed off in the faltering national economy. But by diversifying and adding new equipment to handle different types of cargo, the port has seen its overall numbers rise.
For instance, the port now has the ability to quickly transfer grain sent on barges from Midwest farms into containers for efficient transoceanic shipping. The port resumed importing bananas this year, a traditional business line that had been missing lately, while other imports from Latin American trading partners, including natural rubber and coffee, have seen significant increases.
More cruise ship business is on the horizon, too. While two cruise ships now call New Orleans home, the port expects cruise lines to base five ships here within the next two years. Norwegian Cruise Line will switch from seasonal to year-round cruises from New Orleans this month, and in April that same company plans to base a 3,114-passenger ship in New Orleans. It will be the largest cruise ship ever to call the Crescent City home.
Another cargo boost is expected by 2014 after the completion of a project to widen the Panama Canal, making it accessible to larger container ships. That’s expected to bring millions more containers to Gulf ports per year, and New Orleans will be competing for that increased business.
Some worried that the oil disaster might blunt this momentum. But during the first 120 days of the spill, vessel arrivals were up nearly 12 percent over the same period last year.
Bonura adds,“the shipping lines stuck with us and we really didn’t miss a beat.”