The Port of New Orleans, which sustained heavy damage from Hurricane Katrina, had regained nearly 94 percent of its pre-storm cargo by the end of May, according to figures released by the port Friday.
The port went through a dismal four-month stretch following Katrina's strike on Aug. 29 that included a 12-day shutdown, the loss of about one-third of its operating capacity and the rerouting of cargo to other ports by several shipping lines.
But figures compiled for the first four months of 2006, the latest available, showed that the tonnage of general cargo handled at the port was only 3.8 percent lower than the first four months of 2005. General cargo includes goods shipped in containers and breakbulk cargo, such as steel and rubber, that is transported on pallets.
Bulk cargo such as grain and oil and was off by 8 percent over the same period.
Overall cargo handled at the port for January through May totaled 12.4 million tons, off 6.5 percent from 13.3 tons for the first four months of 2005.
Port spokesman Chris Bonura said the general cargo figure was the best indicator of the port's health, since most of the bulk cargo is handled by private, rather than port-owned facilities.
A total of 683 ship calls were made at the port for the first four months of 2006, down 12 percent for January through May 2005.
A key to the recent recovery has been a 15 percent increase in the amount of iron and steel handled through the port. Bonura said foreign shipments peak on a cycle every three to four years and the latest crescendo came as the port worked back from the storm.
Container units handled by the port were down 36.2 percent to 45,075 from the year-ago figure of 70,650. A cargo operator, APM Terminal, decided to abandon one of the port's two container terminals following Katrina because of the uncertain future of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, which handles large oceangoing ships. The outlet has been blamed for the flooding that devastated St. Bernard Parish.
In 2004, New Orleans ranked seventh among U.S. ports in tons of cargo handled, according to the latest figures available from the American Association of Port Authorities.
In the meantime, the port is lining up the return of cruise ships to New Orleans. Three cruise lines will base four ships in New Orleans by fall 2007, a return to the pre-Katrina level of operation.
Work is expected to be completed in September on a new $37 million cruise terminal that will enable the port to handle two large cruise ships at a time. In 2004, about 734,000 cruise passengers embarked and disembarked through the port, making New Orleans the fastest-growing U.S. cruise port before Katrina, according to port figures.