Port Manatee

Weekly Port Manatee freighter service to begin speedy service to, from Mexico

PORT MANATEE -- A new, speedy freighter service starting next week at Port Manatee will move fresh fruit to the United States and, occasionally, monster trucks to Mexico in record time.

This month, Gulf Breeze-based World Direct Shipping will bring the container ship Falmouth to the port after starting its first two-and-a-half-day run to the Port of Coatzacoalcos in the southern Mexico state of Veracruz.

Matty Appice, the port's senior director of trade development, said the shipping route is the fastest available, hitting both ports of call once a week. The Falmouth will service the port every Tuesday throughout the year.

"There's no service out there that can offer that," he said. "On a regular route, it could be seven or eight days."

The focus of the service will be the transportation of fresh fruit and produce, as well as dry goods that need to get to Mexico quickly. Port Manatee is already an import port for Mexican and South American fruit, much of it processed onsite by Fresh Del Monte. The Falmouth has capacity for up to 204 refrigerated containers, and an overall capacity equal to 862 20-foot containers.

Carlos Diaz, World Direct's business director, said his 2-year-old company picked Port Manatee as the U.S. port of call for its first fixed-day, direct service to the Port of Coatzacoalcos because of its proximity. The Falmouth will make two sailings a week, something that would not be possible with a single vessel if the distance between ports was greater.

"In order for the service to be successful, you need a weekly schedule and it has to be a fixed day," Diaz said. "From Florida, there's nothing like this."

Potential shipping clients interested in using the service have been emailing and calling Appice since it was announced Thursday. Palmetto-based Feld Entertainment is even interested in shipping its monster trucks to shows in Mexico using the fast-freight service.

The appeal of the service will be greatest among shippers who have traditionally used trucks to ship between the United States and Mexico, Appice said. Expected cargo will include pineapples, avocados, limes, mangos and bananas, as well as machinery, vehicles, lumber, paper products, juice concentrates, sugar and beer.

The port worked with World Direct for about year before the first shipment was scheduled. Port and World Direct officials traveled to Mexico several times to develop interest in the

freighter service.

Diaz said his company will base six employees at Port Manatee to supervise and service the cargo service. He declined to reveal projected revenues for his company for the Port Manatee operation, but said he hoped for enough interest and growth to justify a second weekly run.

Port Manatee already has clients that bring freighters in weekly. For example, Fresh Del Monte brings up to two ships a week. Unlike Fresh Del Monte, which stores much of its imported produce in refrigerated warehouses on the port, World Direct will keep its freight containerized when it arrives at Port Manatee. Appice said the port has adequate capacity to store and power hundreds of refrigerated containers.

Carlos Buqueras, the port's executive director, said the new service could generate up to 75 jobs in the Tampa Bay region. Those jobs will include cargo handlers and truckers.

The port has not estimated how much money it would earn off the new business World Direct is bringing in, but Buqueras said he expects it to be "a substantial and significant revenue stream."

Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.