The City of New Orleans was founded in 1718 and became a trading port and the capitol of the French colony of Louisiana. In 1731, the port’s main exports were tobacco and indigo and its main imports were rice and vegetables. As these commodities were unprofitable, the French lost interest in New Orleans and sold the Port and the Louisiana Territory to Spain. Trade under the Spanish prospered; ownership reverted by to the French. By 1803 the Mississippi River had become so important to trade in the US, that the US purchased the colony for $15 million, doubling the United States in size.
The Port’s prosperity became the city’s prosperity and the early to mid-1800’s were known as the Port of New Orleans’ golden age. Cotton became its major export and this prized product moved the Port into the ranks of one of the busiest in the world. Yellow fever, the Civil War and corrupt reconstruction practices caused the port to decline in the late 1800’s.
In the early 1900’s, neglect of the harbor and river was turned around with eighteen new wharves, the Public Grain Elevator, and the 9 km Inner Harbor Navigation Canal completion. The Canal linked the Mississippi River with Lake Pontchartrain. A new rail terminal, civic improvements and a growing petrochemical industry brought vibrancy back to the Port in the 1950’s. 1963 brought the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet to the Port, a ship channel that shortened the distance to the Gulf by 64 km. In 1973, the first terminal designed to handle containers was dedicated and a number of oil refineries were constructed in the Port area. In 1993, Silocaf, the world’s largest bulk coffee handling plant opened at the site of the Public Grain Elevator.
Other Port improvements quickly followed: Six gantry cranes, the Clarence Henry Truckway, the Napoleon Container Terminal allowing vessels with drafts up to 45 feet, the Erato Street and the Julia Street Cruise Terminals. The Port’s facilities now include 22 million square feet of cargo handling area and 6 million square feet of storage area under cover. There are nine uptown river cargo terminals, four downtown river cargo terminals, two inner harbor cargo facilities, and five cruise terminals. The Port has the longest wharf in the world; it is 2 miles long and can accommodate 15 vessels at one time.
As of December 2012, 31.7 million tons of cargo and almost 1 million cruise ship passengers pass through the Port of New Orleans annually. It is the 6th largest port in the US based on cargo volume and handles 2,000 vessel calls a year. Bulk exports from the Port now include raw and processed agricultural products, chemicals, fabricated metals, textiles, tobacco, paperboard and petroleum and petroleum products.
Situated as it is at the mouth of the Mississippi and on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, the Port is connected to 14,500 miles of inland waterways and is 112 miles from the Gulf, 137 miles west-southwest of the Port of Mobile, Alabama, and 224 miles east of Port Arthur, Texas. As well, truck and rail connections allow direct access to a 133,000 mile rail network throughout the U.S and into Canada. According to World Port Source, the Port is the only seaport in the US that is served by all six Class-One railroads. 70 percent of all cargo is handled by the 1,500 truckloads daily from the Port to terminals and final destinations across the US. 500 million tons of cargo that includes half of the US grain exports moves on the Mississippi River annually.
One of the largest deep-water ports in the world, the Port of New Orleans serves as the hub of many shipping, shipbuilding, freight forwarding, logistics and commodity brokerage firms. Corporate headquarters for on-shore and off-shore natural gas and petroleum manufacturers, 17 petroleum refineries, and two of the four US Strategic Petroleum Reserve facilities are located in the Port. The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP), which services ultra-large oil tankers, and major oil pipelines owned by Chevron, Exxon, BP., Shell, Texaco and others, are in the area. Business Facilities Magazine and Forbes Magazine have ranked the Port as the number 1 logistics hub in the US, according to Port President Gary LaGrange.
Future Port expansion plans intend to take advantage of an increasing container shipping facilities need around the world. Currently, ZIM, Mediterranean Shipping Company, Hapag-Lloyd, CMA-CGM, CSAV, Seaboard Marine, Hamburg Sud, Maersk and Libra use the Port of New Orleans. The increasing volume of oil flowing through pipelines in the US that head south will also lead to increased port business. Oil-field related equipment business increased by 500 percent in 2013. Gulf Gateway Terminals handles liquid bulk transfers and has increased its capabilities at the port.
Chemical companies have tripled their export volume over the last five years. In 2012, the Port handled 2 million tons and showed a 35% increase over that number in 2013. The Port is preparing for the Panama Canal expansion by deepening the 100 year old canal. Work should be finished in 2015. President LaGrange is also hoping for funds from the maritime community to deepen the Lower Mississippi River bed to 50 feet.
New Orleans also is one of PortVision’s largest user communities, comprising a diverse group of inland, offshore, and government users. Additionally, New Orleans is often considered to be the “legal hub” of the maritime industry in the USA, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem.
PortVision personnel are regularly visiting the region to provide litigation support to customers (including providing expert testimony on AIS and related technology), and to provide support to regional trade associations like the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association (GICA) and the Offshore Marine Service Association (OMSA). We also regularly participate in incident response activities in the region.