Ports of Auckland and the Maritime Union are blaming each other for the loss of a $20 million shipping service from Auckland to Tauranga that could have far-reaching economic consequences for both cities.
Shipping giant Maersk yesterday announced it was switching its Southern Star container service from Auckland to Tauranga from Saturday.
It said industrial action at Auckland had played a part in the decision.
A senior Auckland official, Gary Swift, told the Herald that other shipping companies could follow Maersk and move to Tauranga.
Mr Swift, who heads Auckland Council's investment arm which owns the port company, said the loss of the Maersk contract was unexpected and alarming and would have a financial effect on the port company and the council.
A forecast dividend of $18 million from the port company to the council in the 2011-2012 financial year would be down, Mr Swift said, but he did not know by how much.
The loss of the service amounts to 52 ship calls, about 82,500 containers a year and an 11 per cent drop on the company's $177 million revenue.
The issue has flared in the corridors of the Super City.
Mayor Len Brown is urging both sides in the industrial dispute to get back around the negotiating table and Citizens & Ratepayers leader Christine Fletcher is demanding answers to avoid significant financial consequences for ratepayers.
Mr Brown said he was concerned about the short and long-term implications of the loss of any shipping contract for the company and council, but the real issue was coping with future growth of cargo through the three upper North Island ports of Auckland, Tauranga and Northland.
Mrs Fletcher also attacked the former Auckland Regional Council for driving the ports company into financial crisis about three years ago by "pillaging" its balance sheet for excessive transport dividends.
Former regional council chairman and Auckland councillor Mike Lee said Mrs Fletcher was making ill-informed political barracking from the sidelines.
Ports chief executive Tony Gibson and Maritime Union national president Garry Parsloe disagree over how much the industrial action was a factor in the Southern Star decision.
Mr Gibson blamed the union for the loss of the contract, saying Maersk told him the only reason for switching the contract was the industrial action, which would lead to job losses.
"Maersk have explained to us that the possibility of further industrial action has been central to their decision to shift the service to Tauranga," Mr Gibson said.
Maersk Line New Zealand trade and marketing manager Dave Gulik said industrial action was a significant factor but not the only factor.
Mr Parsloe said it was odd for Mr Gibson to be blaming the union when he was locking staff out and keeping ships from being turned over.
"There have been negotiations going on for some time about those vessels calling in to Tauranga," Mr Parsloe said.
Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns said the company had been working for some time to attract a new import ship call to Tauranga, and was pleased to gain the weekly service.
The port company yesterday postponed mediation until later in the week "given the magnitude" of the lost service, prompting the union to go ahead with a second 48-hour strike from tomorrow night, which will be followed by a further two-day lockout.
Heart of the City chief executive Alex Swney said industrial action by the union was wrong but may come with a silver lining for Aucklanders.
"We don't want to kick the port while it's down.
"But perhaps it takes a standoff like this to really focus attention on whether or not we want more containers cluttering up our doorstep."