Destined for Canada, Moroccan clementines boon for city

Heralding the start of the North African citrus harvest, a massive Liberian vessel is docked at State Pier this week with its huge cranes at work unpacking some 40,000 pallets of clementines.

Logistics man Pierre Bernier said he expects 14 additional shipments of Moroccan clementines to be delivered to New Bedford in the coming months, most destined for Canada.

“This facility here is designed for this operation,” said Bernier, stevedore manager for the cold storage company Maritime International, which is unloading the fruit at State Pier. This is very good, there’s a lot of jobs associated with cargo ships.”

With 19 sailors aboard, the 505-foot vessel Polarlight arrived Saturday and leaves today, bound for Wilmington, Delaware. From there it will sail to Chile, where it will pick up fruit destined for Philadelphia. “We want her to come back here with Chilean fruit,” said a grinning Jeffrey Stieb, executive director of the Harbor Development Commission. “We have to up our game.”

Stieb said the clementine shipment “fits exactly into the narrative” of where the port is going, a port that sees itself as a future hub for international produce.

Stevedores with forklifts moved the last of the clementine pallets on Monday morning, packing them into a storage facility that Stieb said is one-of-a-kind in Massachusetts.

Bernier said droughts in California are a good thing for New Bedford, boosting demand for Moroccan citrus. In the 2012-2013 season just one shipment came to New Bedford, compared to 13 last season.

Bernier said about a third of all the clementines shipped to New Bedford this season will likely go to U.S. supermarkets, though that fruit needs to be inspected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for insects.

Bernier said the New Bedford port makes more sense for an African vessel because it's the closest port that serves its purpose. It's also warmer down here and the ships aren’t built for ice. Delivering to New Bedford means three less days on the water for the ship – versus 12 hours by truck – meaning the fruit gets to market that much sooner.


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