Yesterday and today, the Port of New Orleans started working cargo vessels that arrived in the Port before the arrival of Hurricane Gustav. The Coast Guard opened the mouth of the Mississippi River to a maximum draft of 30 feet, effective 11 p.m. Wednesday. Other restrictions persist on other parts of the river, but limited commerce has been restored on one of the world’s busiest waterways.

“The opening of the Mississippi River on a limited basis and the return of cargo operations at the Port of New Orleans is a very encouraging sign,” said Gary LaGrange, Port President and CEO. “As sounding and dredging activities take place at the mouth of the river, we hope to restore cargo operations fully in short order so that we can continue to meet the needs of our customers.”

Cargo activities resumed on Wednesday at the Louisiana Avenue Wharf, operated by Coastal Cargo. A crew of supervisors started loading project cargo destined for Brazil on board the Federal Patroller. “This shows that we are committed to customer service,” said Dave Mannella, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Coastal Cargo, who was part of the labor team handling the cargo. “We knew we could operate in a safe and efficient manner so we started working the ship.”

Mannella has a limited but eager crew of labor working cargo today at the Louisiana Avenue Wharf. More labor, including the International Longshoreman’s Association Local 3000, is expected to begin working shortly as a mandatory evacuation has been lifted in New Orleans and the surrounding parishes. Empire Stevedoring is handling steel cargo on board the Ainu Princess today at the First Street Wharf.

All four gantry cranes are operational at the Napoleon Avenue Container Terminal. The container terminal’s two stevedores, Ports America and New Orleans Terminal will open Friday at 7 a.m. and full gate operations will be in effect, allowing trucks to pick up and drop off loads. Access to the Clarence Henry Truckway is available at the Felicity Avenue Gate or the Napoleon Avenue Gate.

The Seaboard Pride, a container vessel with cargo from Central America and the Caribbean, is preparing to transit the mouth of the river tonight and arrive tomorrow morning since its draft is less than 30 feet. If adequate draft at the mouth of the Mississippi River can be confirmed today, two other container vessels are expected to arrive at the Napoleon Avenue Container Terminal Friday, the Bonn Express, operated by Hapag-Lloyd, and the MSC China, operated by Mediterranean Shipping Company.

In total, about 10 vessels are expected to arrive at Port of New Orleans docks between Friday throughout the weekend. Ten additional vessels rode out the storm at the Port and are expected to complete their cargo operations and sail out of New Orleans soon.