Fresh produce company Chiquita Brands International Inc said that its port facilities at Gulfport, Mississippi, were severely damaged by hurricane Katrina.

Gulfport is one of five US ports the company uses to import bananas and other fresh produce.

“Fortunately, all 20 of our employees in Gulfport have been accounted for, and we are grateful,” said Bob Kistinger, president and chief operating officer of Chiquita Fresh. “However, the city of Gulfport sustained tremendous wind and water damage, and many port facilities, including ours, have been severely affected.  While we are still assessing the situation, it is clear that we will need to relocate our services from Gulfport for the foreseeable future.  However, we are very committed to Gulfport and are developing plans to rebuild our facilities there as soon as possible.”

In 2004, Gulfport handled approximately one-quarter of the company’s banana imports to the United States with weekly shipments from Central America.  In the near term, the company plans to utilize Freeport, Texas, Port Everglades, Fla., and possibly other ports to handle shipments that were previously scheduled to Gulfport.

“While this will obviously impact our logistics and shipping operations, we believe our ports in Texas and South Florida are well-positioned to maintain high service levels to our customers in a cost-effective manner,” said Kistinger.  “Our main objective will be to avoid any volume or service disruptions.  We are in contact with our customers to work through any service schedule changes.”

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The company maintains customary insurance coverage for physical property, including shipping containers, as well as for business interruption. The deductibles for Chiquita under these conditions would range from approximately $1m to $2m.  The company is continuing to evaluate any additional financial impact that may result from damage due to the hurricane; however, it does not expect these costs to be material. Chiquita also announced that none of its ships was damaged by the hurricane.