Produce shipping company Del Monte will add container shipping vessels to its Port Manatee itinerary starting in March, port executive director Carlos Buqueras announced Thursday.
Del Monte will bring container vessels “periodically in a controlled growth,” Buqueras said.
Del Monte isn’t completely switching to containerized cargo but will use container vessels at Port Manatee roughly every three weeks. Container vessels can hold 350 containers, compared to 96 containers on a breakbulk ship, according to Buqueras.
“That will grow our container volume exponentially,” Buqueras said. “Hopefully in the next 12 months we could see as much as a 30 to 40 percent increase in our container growth, which would be dramatic.”
Breakbulk differs from containerized cargo in that loose materials or products are loaded, shipped and unloaded individually. With container shipping, storage units are used to encase the cargo.
At Thursday’s Manatee County Port Authority meeting, Manatee County Commissioner and Port Authority member Carol Whitmore asked Buqueras about a potential need to update Port Manatee’s crane technology with the increase of containerized cargo.
The port is looking at it, Buqueras said, but it’s still under review.
Del Monte Produce representatives could not be reached for comment.
The Port Authority also approved a recorded easement and installation agreement with Florida Power and Light to install a transformer in the port’s container yard. The transformer will power 124 new refrigerated plugs that are necessary for cold containerized cargo storage.
While the port does seek to boost its container volume in the upcoming year, Port Manatee doesn’t plan to stop accepting breakbulk shipments.
“The capability to handle both is the key,” Buqueras said. “We can handle breakbulk; most ports in Florida are not ready to handle breakbulk for fruits and vegetables. Containerization allows the port to reach further because now you don’t have to break the cold chain. So this is just another diversification. We are not shutting down bulk; we are just expanding containers.”