Less than three weeks following the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Port of New Orleans President and CEO Gary LaGrange said the entire Port community should be proud of their resilience and highlighted several recent gains made in new cargoes, services and within the cruise industry, during his annual address sponsored by the International Freight Forwarders and Customs Brokers Association of New Orleans.

“We all felt a calling – a responsibility to the rest of the nation, to ourselves and to our community,” LaGrange said of the weeks following Aug. 29, 2005. “Five years later, I look back at our successes with great pride. Our collective work provided a reason for people to return – and most importantly – it provided hope.”

In the last five years, the Port has worked tirelessly to secure funding necessary not only to rebuild infrastructure, but to position New Orleans as a world-class port for growth and development, LaGrange said.

“The Port is in the process of investing more than $100 million into facilities. Some $67 million is being spent on recovery projects either completed, under construction or in the design phase. Another $44 million is currently being spent on capital projects. Included in those numbers are two new container gantry cranes scheduled for delivery in early 2011, Napoleon Avenue Container Terminal expansion, a new Riverfront Cold Storage Terminal, the complete refurbishment of the Julia Street Cruise Terminal and a new modern dredge.

LaGrange also highlighted cargo gains, especially during the first half of 2010. So far in 2010, total cargo is up 6.6 percent over a year ago with a 60 percent surge in containerized cargo leading the way. Top Port commodities, such as natural rubber and coffee, also realized gains of 14 percent and 5.4 percent respectively so far in 2010. After a many year absence, the Port reinstated banana imports, as Seaboard Marine imports about 15,000 40-pound boxes of bananas each week.

In step with the world economic climate and the weak dollar, the Port continues to see gains in exports, as well. Total exports rose 55 percent so far in 2010, with chemicals up 74.3 percent. Overall, break-bulk exports are up some 15.3 percent, while container exports rose 61 percent.

LaGrange also cited new services and value-added projects slated to significantly grow cargo volumes within the Port. Topping the list is the recent announcement by the London Metals Exchange to certify New Orleans as its first U.S. port for the delivery and storage of steel billets. LME metals, such as aluminum, copper and zinc helped buoy the Port during the recent recession. In 2009, the Port handled more than 720,000 tons of aluminum, copper and zinc - all LME metals.

“LME’s announcement is expected to further grow business in the New Orleans transportation and warehousing sectors, while creating new options for steel buyers and sellers who want to protect themselves from price fluctuations,” LaGrange said.

Last month, Hapag-Loyd – one of the world’s largest container shipping companies – announced it added an additional vessel to its existing Mediterranean service, providing a true fixed-day weekly service and adding another 12 port calls annually. Also, Transportation Consultants Inc. recently dedicated its new headquarters and container-packaging warehouse on France Road.

“We’re very excited about TCI’s investment in New Orleans,” LaGrange said. “This new facility will build value-added cargo and grow business within the Port, while creating more than 60 new jobs.”

Perhaps the most publicized growth within the Port is the return of the Cruise industry. Currently, there are two home-ported cruise ships in New Orleans; however, the figure could top five within the next two years.

Carnival Cruise Lines is returning its Carnival Conquest and Ecstasy for year round cruising, while Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Spirit will begin year-round seven-day itineraries from New Orleans beginning in November. NCL has traditionally sailed seasonally from November to April from the Crescent City. In addition, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines announced it will return service to New Orleans in 2011 with its Voyager of the Seas – 1,020-foot cruise ship accommodating 3,114 guests – making it the largest cruise ship to ever call on New Orleans. Port officials continue to meet with several other cruise lines keenly interested in home-porting vessels here in the future.

To accommodate the growth of the cruise industry, Port officials will soon begin the complete renovation of the Julia Street cruise Terminal, converting two smaller terminals into a single modern terminal able to berth the industry’s largest cruise ships. The renovation is expected to be completed by next summer.

 LaGrange also congratulated the Port community and the U.S. Coast Guard with its handling of the recent Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“Due to everyone’s efforts, commerce was undeterred on the Mississippi River throughout the entire incident,” LaGrange said. “Not a single cargo vessel or cruise ship was rerouted.”

In fact, New Orleans Board of Trade figures show vessel arrivals rose 11.87 percent during the 120-day period from April 20 until August 17 when the well was finally capped.

“Looking ahead, the Port is poised to capture additional cargoes, attract the cruise industry’s finest ships and, most importantly, create jobs for our region and state,” LaGrange concluded.