Ports of Auckland will pay its owner, Auckland Council, an unchanged first-half dividend even as profit fell and debt rose.

Net profit fell to $29.3 million in the six months ended December 31 from $31.6m a year earlier, the port company said. Sales rose 4 per cent to $110.5m while expenses rose 3.2 per cent to $73.6m.

Container volumes rose 4 per cent to 493,665 in the first half. Multi-cargo volume rose 8.8 per cent to 3.26 million tonnes, which it said reflected higher volumes of imported cars and construction materials. Cruise ship visits fell by three to 28. Car volumes rose 17.6 per cent to 145,883 units.

It will pay a first-half dividend of $25.3m, from $25.9 million a year earlier, which will help the council "fund vital infrastructure projects and manage the cost of Auckland rates," said chief executive Tony Gibson. Debt rose to $266.6m from $218m a year earlier.

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The port company is owned via the council's Auckland Council Investments and "serves Auckland's growth".

Dividends in the 2016 financial year of $54.3m were the equivalent of 4.4 per cent of the average Auckland residential rates bill, or $104 per household, it said.

The port said it was rolling out its North Island freight hubs and construction was underway in the Waikato. The first freight handling facilities are expected to be in service by late 2017 or early 2018. It said it was also making progress on a strategic alliance with Napier Port.

Ports of Auckland aims to be carbon neutral by 2025 and have zero emissions by 2040.