( Courtesy Port of Wilmington )

The Port of Wilmington, Del., is under new management and the new operator is bringing key improvements to the important landing spot for U.S. fruit imports.

In an agreement with the Diamond State Port Corp. last September, GT USA Wilmington was granted exclusive rights to operate and develop the Port of Wilmington for 50 years. 

The beginning of that era has already seen improvements to the port and more are coming.

GT USA’s concession includes the full management and development of the port’s existing container volumes of 350,000 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) per year, which is forecast to more than double in the years to come as a consequence of this deal, according to a news release.

The Port of Wilmington, which began operations in 1923, is the top North American port for imports of fresh fruit into the U.S., according to the release.

Over the next nine years, Gulftainer plans to invest $580 million in the port, including approximately $410 million for a new 1.2 million TEU container facility at DuPont’s former Edgemoor site, which was acquired by the Diamond State Port Corp. in 2016. 

Earlier this year, GT USA Wilmington took delivery of three 45-ton reach stackers from KoneCranes Inc., according to the release.

The delivery is part of a larger order, which includes nine 41-ton Rubber Tired Gantry (RTG) cranes, and is part of the $500 million-plus investment into the Port of Wilmington and a new container terminal development at Edgemoor.

Improvements coming

Dave Harriss, vice president of commercial operations GT USA Wilmington, the U.S. arm of ports and logistics company Gulftainer, said there is $170 million earmarked for the Port of Wilmington terminal. 

“We’ve probably spent about $49 million so far on new equipment and a lot of infrastructure changes,” he said.  

The port has reinforced its piers, changed the traffic flows and created a terminal operating system that tracks cargo flows for both containers and breakbulk, he said.

“I suspect we will have close to $140 million spent by the end of 2020 because we’re adding an additional two warehouses and taking our refrigerated square feet up over a million square feet and our dry capacity up to 300,000 square feet,” he said.

The Port of Wilmington is located on just more than 300 acres, he said, and GT USA Wilmington is changing the operating structure and will allow the company to squeeze more capacity out of those 300 acres. 

For example, a master gate system will replace individual fences around tenant facilities, allowing greater consolidation of operating areas. Dole and Chiquita are legacy customers for the port and both have renewed long-term commitments.

GT USA Wilmington is taking the port’s container footprint from 300,000 TEUs up to 600,000 TEUs by going to a stacked configuration instead of a grounded configuration, he said.

In the past year, the port has experienced an increase from 350,000 TEUs to 408,000 TEUs, he said.

Breakbulk is still a vital part of the port’s fruit business, though container volume is bigger business. About two breakbulk ships come to the port each week, Harriss said.

Looking ahead, he said GT USA Wilmington will continue to invest in the legacy port facilities at the Port of Wilmington, with coming changes more pronounced and visual. Improvements accomplished so far include reinforcing the piers, laying in fiber optics and installing new wi-fi systems.

“Now the big visual changes are going to take place after the winter season,” he said. 

“You’re going to see the gantry cranes coming in and the look and feel of the place is going to change,” he said, noting the new gate complex and a new refrigerated warehouse.

Groundbreaking also will occur at the Edgemoor site. That terminal facility will be strictly oriented to handling containers and is expected to handle about 1.2 million TEUs.

“We think it will be open for business in 2023,” he said.

The Port of Wilmington will remain a mixed use facility while Edgemoor will be geared to handle big container ship operators, and will have a 240,000-square-foot-high cube refrigerator space.

Fruit trends

Considering trends in fruit imports, Harriss thinks that the South American trade will continue to edge up its share of containerized business versus breakbulk, but that there will always be a need for breakbulk shipments.

In terms of suppliers, he pointed to rising volumes from Peru.

“I think that Peru is going to come out swinging this year and volumes from Peru are going to be robust,” he said. 

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