GT USA Wilmington, a unit of United Arab Emirates-based Gulftainer, has begun advancing a half-century-long commitment to make the most out of existing Port of Wilmington facilities while moving forward with a diverse development plan that includes building a new container terminal a few miles up the Delaware River.

“Gulftainer USA Wilmington is here for the long haul,” Eric Casey, chief executive officer of GT USA Wilmington, told AJOT, citing plans to invest $580 million over the next nine years, with more than $400 million of that going toward development on a 112-acre waterfront site that formerly housed the Chemours/DuPont titanium dioxide manufacturing plant at Edgemoor.

The 50-year concession agreement under which GT USA Wilmington took over Delaware port operations in October facilitates long-term dedication to collaboration with users from fresh fruit importers to a host of movers of breakbulk, bulk, roll-on/roll-off and project cargos, according to Casey.

Existing Port of Wilmington facilities are undergoing capability expansion under a 50-year agreement with GT USA Wilmington, which also is developing a new terminal just up the Delaware River.
Existing Port of Wilmington facilities are undergoing capability expansion under a 50-year agreement with GT USA Wilmington, which also is developing a new terminal just up the Delaware River.

“We are setting up to conduct capital improvements both of the current port and then obviously the investment into Edgemoor,” said Casey, who came aboard at Gulftainer last September, following four years as vice president at Virginia International Terminals Inc. A U.S. Marine Corps colonel, Casey worked in special operations and, during a portion of his four-year stint with ocean carrier Maersk Line Ltd., served as technical adviser for the 2013 film “Captain Phillips,” about the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the M/V Maersk Alabama.

With that kind of background, Casey would seem well-poised to lead efforts aimed at taking Delaware’s Port of Wilmington to the next level under the 50-year pact.

“What it allows us to do is come in and take a broad approach, where we can look at not just a 10-year plan but at how we phase growth and opportunity for a 20-year plan, a 30-year plan, and what that means as far as maritime industry technological advances and changes in consumer dynamics and cargos,” Casey said.

“This is an investment for us in the future of Wilmington and the state of Delaware, and we have to take it as if we are stewards of the state and look at it in terms of what we think Delaware needs in order to grow,” he said. “We need to look at how we collaborate together to make that work.

“It also offers us a much more partner-oriented position, where we’re coming in as a company, but we’re also coming in as a caring, concerned community member,” Casey added, noting initiatives including education and workforce development undertakings. “Because we’re going to be here a long time, we need to form those long-term bonds and relationships with the outside community, so they know and understand how we can help support them and in essence support the state.”

From an infrastructure standpoint, it means dual focus on enhancing the present 308-acre facility – which dates back to 1923 – at the confluence of the Christina and Delaware rivers while ambitiously proceeding with phased development of the Edgemoor property, which the Diamond State Port Corp. acquired for $10 million in 2016, following 2015 closure of the Chemours plant. The goal includes more than tripling the Port of Wilmington’s annual container throughput capacity from existing volumes of about 350,000 twenty-foot-equivalent units a year.

“It means,” Casey said, “we’re going to expand the capabilities of the current port to be more flexible against a very diverse portfolio of cargos, and then, when we build out Edgemoor, we’re going to put a 1.2 million-TEU state-of-the-art container terminal on the Delaware River open for business to handle liner service and really greatly expand capabilities of the Delaware River to handle more containerized cargo not just for the region but also all the way into the United States.”

Indicative of project cargo activity at Delaware’s Port of Wilmington, 165-foot-long wind turbine blades imported from China are offloaded from a BBC Chartering vessel.
Indicative of project cargo activity at Delaware’s Port of Wilmington, 165-foot-long wind turbine blades imported from China are offloaded from a BBC Chartering vessel.

While improvements at the present port site, including more refrigerated and dry warehousing, should be done in 2020, the first phase at Edgemoor isn’t targeted for completion until late 2023.

“We’re going to open it before the whole property is completely developed, and then, as we gain cargos, we’re going to continue to expand our capabilities to stay ahead of the demand signal,” Casey said of Edgemoor. “We don’t anticipate having any delays between phases one, two and three of the Edgemoor opening. We’re going to continue to work straight through, because we think the demand signal is high enough that we’re going to have to.”

GT USA officials have been meeting weekly with such longtime customers as fresh fruit importers Chiquita and Dole while interacting with potential new users as well, Casey said, as Wilmington looks to build upon its longstanding “top banana” status as No. 1 North American port for imports of the nation’s most popular fruit.

“Wilmington has made a great reputation for itself in the handling of fresh produce and using refrigeration,” Casey said. “We are absolutely going to continue that here at the Port of Wilmington. We feel that is a strong core business. It allows us to be in a very competitive market space, where we have good turn times to get cargos into our warehouses at the appropriate temperature and then turned out for distribution into retail sites across the country. We’re going to continue to utilize that as one of our many pieces in our portfolio in order to grow this business.”

Plans include augmenting activity in such varied sectors as cattle exports and imports of oversized wind energy components and rocket boosters.

“We’re going to continue to utilize our space to do all kinds of project cargos,” Casey said. “We’re looking to expand our breakbulk and bulk capabilities on terminal, and we’re working with some of our bulk customers to find better ways to move their cargo more efficiently, safely and expeditiously so that we can bring more cargo through across our quay.

“Whether it’s organic grains or other types of cargo, we’re looking at all of them,” he said. “We are fully open for business, and, as we continue to develop the port and invest in building the port out, we’re going to continue looking for more diversity in our cargos, to include automobiles.”

Indeed, in January, the Port of Wilmington – already handling Chrysler and General Motors exports plus Fiat and Jeep Chrysler imports – celebrated its first shipment of new Ford vehicles to the Middle East.

Casey said GT USA intends to retain Wilmington’s “Your Port of Personal Service” credo.

“We have kept that moniker and are definitely very interested in forming relationships with all of our customers,” he said. “We believe in reaching out to them and finding their requirements and not only providing their base requirements but everything that we can do.

“At Gulftainer, we use the term ‘Partnering Progress,’ which is how we link ourselves to help our customers grow, because, as our customers grow, that helps us grow,” Casey continued. “As we grow, that helps provide economic development for the state of Delaware and the surrounding communities.”

We’re very key in trying to make Wilmington a better place as well.”