The Central Gulf & Southern Rivers Gateway encompasses the southern heartland of the United States. Its area of responsibility encompasses Alabama, Arkansas, Florida panhandle, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and internationally, the Gulf Coast of Mexico. This Gateway houses the downstream reach of the Mississippi River and its tributaries – a vital component of the America’s Marine Highway System. Shallow draft barges carry grain (e.g., corn, soybeans, and wheat) downstream to export elevators for loading on deep draft ships for export to world markets. Those barges then carry steel products upstream to mills. Considerable barge traffic in petrochemicals also forms a vital supply chain via the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. The exploration and production of oil and natural gas generates considerable maritime activity for US Flag boats (e.g., supply, crew, offshore tugs) and specialized barges within this Gateway area of responsibility. The strategic asset Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) and onshore Liquified Natural Gas terminals operate within this Gateway area.
There are 65 operating coastal and inland ports within this Gateway area. According to the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), seven of these coastal ports are among the top 17 in the U.S., and one inland port is among the top four in the U.S. by tonnage (2010). Imports to the coastal ports include petroleum products (with considerable lightering activity by tank ships), steel, rubber, coffee, and foodstuffs. In addition to grain, exports include frozen poultry and oil well supplies. New Orleans LA, Mobile AL, and Gulfport MS are active, growing container ports within this Gateway area. Cruise lines are also a growth market for coastal ports, and river cruising has returned in 2012. There are over 100 ship/boat construction and repair facilities in this Gateway. The Eastern Gulf / Lower Mississippi Gateway’s area of subject matter expertise includes bulk cargoes and disaster response/recovery. This Gateway maintains a vast network of Federal, state, local government and industry partners.