A CONTRACT to ship tropical fruit could be the 'positive boost' a Portsmouth firm needs - after it was revealed it had been propped up by more than £7m of taxpayers' money in the past.
Council-owned MMD Shipping today announced it had secured a contract with international giant Seatrade to transport tropical fruits and vegetables from South America and the Caribbean into the UK.
The service will see at least 2,000 pallets arrive every week holding refrigerated bananas, melons, pineapples and vegetables.
Since 2010/11 Portsmouth City Council has handed out seven loans to MMD totalling £7.3m, with an outstanding balance of £5.9m.
But last year it was agreed that the firm would need an additional £15m from Portsmouth City Council to 'future-proof' the company by providing new kit and reconfiguring port space.
For Steve Williams, operations director at MMD, the Seatrade contract was justification for the investment. He said: 'After the recent completion of our first major redevelopment phase, we have increased our refrigerated container storage capacity.
'This is a significant contract and demonstrates the benefit when you invest in the business. This strengthens our new business plan, which aims to see move into a strong profitable business within three years.
'We’ll always look at what’s possible to accommodate changes in the industry and address our customers’ needs.'
He added: 'We’re looking forward to managing Seatrade’s new service. Seatrade is famed for a fast and direct service, and our position on the south coast makes us an ideal location for distribution across the country.'
The city council currently earns around £2m in rent and fees from MMD that it pays to Portsmouth International Port, which is also council-owned.
Councillor Ben Dowling, the council's head of economic development, was confident that investing in MMD would benefit the city. 'Loans, which are paid back with interest, have been essential and ongoing investment is vital to land some major, substantial deals the team are currently working on,' he said.
'As MMD grows, so will the port and ultimately the contribution to council services.
'This is a positive boost for MMD and fits with the company’s business plan to increase regular scheduled freight. The new team of executives at MMD have considerable port experience which gives us confidence in supporting their plans.'
Five vessels will be used on rotation, Santa Maria, Santa Lucia, Regal Bay, Fegulus and Comoros Stream, to bring in the cargo.
Portsmouth currently imports around 50 per cent of the country’s bananas despite MMD having lost fruit importer Geest Line’s cargo handling contract to Dover which resulted in the loss of 60 jobs.