NEW YORK (AP) — A deal has been struck that for now averts a strike by 14,500 longshoremen at major ports on the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico. A federal mediator announced Friday that an expired contract for workers in the International Association of Longshoremen would be extended until early February while negotiations continue. The longshoremen had been preparing for a possible strike Sunday that would probably have crippled operations at ports that handle about 40 percent of all U.S. container cargo. The mediator says there have been major steps forward toward resolving the dispute. Initially, the mediator announced the extension would be 30 days, until Jan. 28. Later, the union and its bargaining opponent, the U.S. Maritime Alliance, said they had agreed to extend it even further, until Feb. 6, because of the holidays.