Ports of Auckland looks unlikely to go live on its controversial container terminal automation next month or July as undertaken by its chief executive.
Further delay to completion of the five year old project is signalled in an advisory from the port company obtained by the Herald, which says automation was planned for July but now there's a "strong likelihood" it could now be "August sometime".
Chief executive Tony Gibson told the Herald in March full automation at the Auckland Council-owned port would go live in June or early July.
The news will further dismay importers struggling with supply chain congestion and hoping to avoid a repeat of last Christmas's freight logjam due to unloading delays at the Auckland Council-owned port.
The latest operational update from New Zealand's main import gateway shows some container ships are still waiting between six and 15 days to berth after arrival in Auckland waters. The status of the container terminal service remains "severely degraded with major delays".
Meanwhile the container ship Constantinos P, carrying cargoes for Auckland, has tied up for the third time in five months at Northland's Northport, and the Port of Tauranga in a newsletter reports six months on it is still battling terminal congestion "having to deal with large volumes of diverted cargo as a result of problems at Ports of Auckland".
The advisory from the Auckland port said the likely live delay was due to pavement remediation work in the manual terminal, now about 45 per cent completed and weather dependent, as well as "risk assessments and independent peer reviews" Auckland Council wants done first.
The latter reason is news to senior Auckland councillor Chris Darby, who chairs the council's planning committee and recently called the council "a lazy hands-off owner".
Darby told the Herald to his knowledge the council as shareholder has only requested two reviews - one a review which has reported serious systemic health and safety problems at the port, and an independent review of the automation project, after it was fully implemented.
"We have a huge concern about it (the automation project). I'm not aware of any review that would get in the way of full implementation...It's the last thing we would be wanting to have happen."
Darby has formal questions into the council's administration on whether the automation is on track for full implementation as advised by management, and the status of berth availability.
Meanwhile, the Maritime Union is suggesting full automation may not start until October or November.
National secretary Craig Harrison said union members were still seeing system issues at the port, which is operating both automated and manual systems.
He called on the port to "be upfront" with Auckland importers whom he advised to start planning for Christmas now.
"This could be kicked out towards November. It could be an even worse situation than last year."
A written response on Friday from the port's spokesman said "at this stage there is no change to the timing" and preparatory work was ongoing.
"The CHASNZ (health and safety) report highlighted the need to repair what it called the dysfunctional relationship between the Maritime Union and the Ports of Auckland, so yes, we are working with our Maritime Union members on automation and other matters.
"In this case, we're working with all our staff - including those who are Maritime Union members - in preparation for the full rollout of automation.
"We want to ensure we are absolutely ready."
With regard to the system problems claimed by the union, the statement said:
"There is no inherent problem with the system, it works. To date we've successfully handled over 100 vessels through the automated yard. Anyone can come down to the port any day of the week and see the robots working - which is something most of our critics have never bothered to do.
"But we never said it would be easy or that it would work perfectly from day one.
"We're automating while still operating the terminal and handling ships....We're doing this because we're a small port. If we had the room, we'd do what other ports do - build a brand new automated terminal, test it away from any shipping and then turn it on once all the bugs have been ironed out.
"We've had to do that work while still operating - and during a pandemic. Yes, we've had some bugs but this was expected. As issues arise we fix them.
"Overall the system works and it's getting better all the time."
The port company and the council have declined to reveal the cost of automation.
Constantinos P berthed at Northport on Sunday to unload 909 containers. The vessel will depart on Wednesday with containers available for dispatch south to Auckland by truck and/or rail from Northport's wharf from 6am Thursday.
Northport expected to complete dispatch within six working days and was asking for trucking industry cooperation to help it do so, said a spokesman.