PH Wartime: Shortly after the creation of the port, the Navy took the port by eminent domain in 1942 for use as a base during World War II.

The Port of Hueneme

A grand operation, 75 years in the making

By Michael Sullivan 09/27/2012

The Calandra, a 35,000-ton container ship, was docked at the Port of Hueneme one Thursday afternoon. Longshore crane operators were carefully unloading the 450 refrigerated containers of green Chiquita bananas from Ecuador, coordinating with longshoremen on the ground who were cautiously placing them on UTRs (utility tractor rig). The containers were then unhooked from the UTRs until truckers were ready to take their haul to distribution centers in California and eventually to supermarkets throughout the western United States and Canada.

At the same time, longshore crane operators were unloading the Toledo Carrier, a 6,000-ton reefer ship (aka refrigerated cargo ship) full of Del Monte bananas, which included 100 refrigerated or reefer cargo container loads of bananas plus an additional 5,000 pallets of bananas below deck. The Del Monte bananas are unloaded and then stored for a day or two in the port’s cooled warehouse. Inside the warehouse, lift operators were moving pallets stacked high with bananas at a furious pace into cooled trucks at the loading docks.

Outside, truckers were drinking coffee and carrying on as they waited for their hauls. The port elsewhere that day was seemingly quiet, but a tour of the 120-acre site revealed an operation full of life even when nothing seems to be happening, while its rich history reveals the birth of a magnificent operation and the wonderful simplicity of it all. Celebrating 75 years this year, the port has opened its gates for its inaugural Banana Festival on Saturday, Sept. 29, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The event will give the public an opportunity to tour one of the busiest seaports in the region.

In essence, just a landlord

To think of the Port of Hueneme as only a landlord seems a little perplexing. Truth be told, however, the business of any port is to attract and make long-term contracts with lessees, keep them happy and safe by maintaining the grounds and facilities, and provide competitive amenities to attract new lessees, no different than a property owner looking for tenants. It is, nonetheless, a bit more complicated than posting an ad on Craigslist and hoping for the best. To put it in perspective, the port customers do $7 billion in cargo annually, which equals $200 million in local economic activity and around 1,500 jobs.


A multifaceted operation: The Port of Hueneme’s business isn’t as simple as BMWs and bananas. The port caters to many diverse businesses. For instance, fishermen offload 50,000 tons of squid each year, trailing behind Ventura Harbor, which brings in about 60,000 tons of squid. The squid will be flash-frozen and may remain in the country to be consumed as calamari or sent to larger container ports and shipped to Asia. Near the squid facility, the port has storage tanks holding millions of gallons of nitrogen-based liquid fertilizer, owned by Yara, a company based in Norway, once a month. The port even has a Stellar Biotechnologies facility, a worldwide company that started in Hueneme in 1999. At the facility, keyhole limpets are being raised and harvested for their hemocyanin, a valuable protein used in cancer research and for cancer vaccines. Keyhole limpet hemocyanin is also used as an essential carrier protein in vaccines being developed for use in oncology, cardiology (e.g., hypertension), rheumatology (arthritis), neurology (Alzheimer’s), and other vital clinical indications.

Shipper vs. carrier: It might seem the two would be one and the same, but there is a difference between a shipper, which actually has a product to be shipped, and a carrier, which is only the vessel to transport goods. For example, the Calandra is the carrier for Chiquita bananas. Chiquita is the shipper. Some shippers have their own carriers, aka cargo vessels, but many just contract with carriers, which can relieve some of the liabilities for the shipper in having to transport its own cargo.

Stevedore: The stevedore is the operator who contracts with the shipper and owns the cranes, though some ships, like the Calandra, come with cranes built on the ship. Technically, cranes built on ships are more difficult to operate than mobile cranes or cranes built at the port. The stevedore hires the longshoremen who operate the cranes and utility tractor rigs and dock laborers in general. Stevedores at the Port of Hueneme include Ports America, Ceres, Pacific Ro Ro (the term, ro-ro, stands for roll on, roll off) and SSA Marine. The Port of Hueneme also has a $5.6 million mobile harbor crane, owned by Ports America and operated by two females, an occurrence only at Hueneme among West Coast ports.

Top Cargo: Thirty-two companies do business through the port, annually handling at least 1 million metric tons of cargo; 2012 has been the port’s fourth-best year on record, with more than 1.3 million metric tons of cargo handled. By far, imports outweigh exports at the Port of Hueneme. (The export business has been growing recently, equaling 25 percent of total cargo.) Its two top imports include autos and bananas. For fiscal year 2011-2012, the Port of Hueneme imported 615,588 metric tons of bananas and 219,164 vehicles. The total vehicle cargo was 240,661, of which 21,497 were exports to Chinese markets. Banana imports make up nearly half of the Port of Hueneme’s import tonnage, hence the inaugural Banana Festival. Imported vehicles include BMW, Mini Cooper, Rolls Royce, Hyundai, Kia, Mitsubishi, Suzuki, Land Rover and Jaguar. Thirty-three percent of new BMWs in the country transit at the Port of Hueneme. BMWs entering via Hueneme hit markets throughout the western United States. Vehicles are driven from the port to nearby distribution centers, which make the cars ready for sale, and then transported by truck to dealerships. Exports include Honda (Acura) and GM (Cadillac and Camaro) vehicles.

In the beginning: Chumash Indians would travel to the point that was once called Wynema, the place of rest. It was the closest point from the mainland to Anacapa Island, where the Native Americans would trade with other tribes. When Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo came to the West Coast around 1542, he renamed it Hueneme, since the letter W is absent in the Spanish language. In 1867, Thomas Bard, one of Ventura County’s founding pioneers, came to the area and found out about a deep submarine valley, adjacent to Hueneme, that would be an ideal place to build a port. After many struggles with the government, the port district was formed in 1937; and in 1938, Bard’s dream was realized through his son’s perseverance, and dredge work on the entrance began at the port following the one-day sale of $1.75 million in general-obligation bonds.

Teamsters: Teamsters are the individuals who get the products to distribution centers. They include lift operators and truckers. They also contract with the shipper.

Not the average tugboat: The two Z-drive tractor tugs, owned and operated by Brusco Tug and Barge, are some of the most modern in the country. Each tug has 4,000 horsepower and produces 100,000 pounds of thrust. The boats are also capable of spinning 360 degrees, having been uniquely built for the Port of Hueneme.

The first annual Banana Festival: This free-admission festival celebrates the Port of Hueneme’s 75-year anniversary and provides an opportunity for visitors to learn about the journey of the banana and the inner workings of the Port, while enjoying delicious banana foods, music, dance and fun. The port is located at 105 East Port Hueneme Road, Port Hueneme.Festival highlights include community recipe contest, VIP pie eating contest at 1:45 p.m. on the main stage, live entertainment, a classic car show, an auto pavilion, an arts and crafts marketplace, local farmers market, kids’ activities, unique banana food creations and the Port Pavilion showcasing the inner workings of the port from its day-to-day operations to its sustainability projects. Visitors will have an opportunity to talk to the port staff, and customers to ask detailed questions about life on the port. Special events include waterside port tours with the Bluefin vessel of Hooks Landing at 12:30, 2, 3:30 and 5 p.m. and a dive simulation tank featuring the Seabee Underwater Construction Team. 




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