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For the past 21 years, one member of the Delaware River port community is selected every spring by a jury of his or her peers to receive the prestigious Spirit of the Port Award. This year was notable on several fronts.

Barbara Hunter, director of imported commodities for Western Fumigation, is the first woman to receive the honor, and it happened on the historic day -- April 18 -- that the crew of the Maersk Alabama took back their ship from pirates off the coast of Somalia.

It was most fitting because The Seamen's Church Institute, which sponsors the award and annual event, is dedicated to the mission of caring for seafarers who are carrying Chilean fruit to Delaware River ports -- and all cargoes moving around the world.

The Reverend James Von Dreele spoke highly of Ms. Hunter's qualifications to the audience of 300, while he explained the mission of the institute to serve the needs of thousands of seafarers arriving in both Philadelphia and New Jersey ports, without regard for their nationality, race or creed.

Presenter Dennis Rochford, president of the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River & Bay, went on to expound upon Ms. Hunter's many accomplishments, awards and recognition since coming to the ports 30 years ago. He focused on her leadership and interface with Chile and her dedication to the growth and success of the Delaware River ports.

Many dignitaries were in attendance. Alberto Feres, representing the Chilean Line Steamship Co., traveled from Chile for the event. Ms. Hunter is well known in Chile for her many contributions. She was a recipient of the Friend of Chile Award, which is presented by the Chilean & American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia, and has also been given the rare Award of Recognition presented by the Chilean Exporters Association, which cited Ms. Hunter's "valuable contribution in the development of the fresh produce industry."

Andreas Economou, chief executive officer of Unifrutti of America Inc., said of Ms. Hunter in a press release, "A person of distinguished courage and ability. Her character consists of uniqueness, accountability, integrity and creativity. Puts herself in other's shoes. She projects confidence, compassion, energy, creativity and vision."

Others officials present at the event were David Scott, captain of the port for the U.S. Coast Guard; Erica Atwood, deputy to Michael Nutter, the mayor of Philadelphia; William Keller, a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives; and Benjamin Leavenworth, honorary consul general of Chile, who was quoted in the press release as saying, "We consider Barbara Hunter to be a true friend of Chile in the deepest sense, not only because of the love that she expresses for our country and its people but also because of her tireless work to facilitate trade and the encompassing relationships it embodies."

During Ms. Hunter's impassioned remarks when accepting the award, she outlined the daunting challenges facing the future of international trade and their effects on port business. She cited the global economic downturn, compliance with anti-terrorism measures, environmental issues affecting both the shipping industry and the ports, and the dilemma of how to attract young people into the business. She said in the release, "While we focus on meeting the demands in front of us, do not forget the plight of our seafarers, from whose work we all benefit."

Ms. Hunter is well known in the industry for her proactive participation in issues of importance to Chile and to the Delaware River ports. She has been recognized in the past with the Women's International Trade Association Outstanding Achievement Award, the Cocoa Award given by the Ports of Philadelphia & Camden for technical and informational support to the cocoa industry, and the Make a Difference Award presented by the Center for Hope Hospice, a non-profit organization in New Jersey serving the needs of the terminally ill.

She is active in many port organizations including The Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River & Bay, for which she is a member of the board of directors and the executive committee.

Spirit of the Port Award candidates must embody a spirit of consistent participation and support for issues of importance to commerce on the Delaware River, as well as exhibit support for charitable and other worthwhile endeavors that benefit the ports while upholding the highest of ethical standards.

Ms. Hunter has been with Western Fumigation since 1975 and has worked with the Delaware River ports since 1979. Western Fumigation provides port of entry U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Food & Drug Administration quarantine treatments to meet U.S. entry requirements for imports and exports. The firm has been serving the eastern United States since 1928.