The America's Cup will have at least one fewer challenge than expected after the withdrawal of Malta Altus.
What was meant to be a historic moment for sailing in Malta, their first ever challenge for the Auld Mug have officially pulled the plug on the operation.
"This is a disappointing outcome." Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton said in a statement released on Friday.
"The Malta Altus Challenge had a strong foundation with some highly experienced and reputable America's Cup personnel linked to the team.
"So, for them to pull out is not just a shame for the event but also for those people that have worked so hard trying to get this challenge to the start line. We hope they will continue to build on their foundation over the next 18 months with a view to the future and challenging for the 37th America's Cup."
Malta Altus were one of three teams rumoured to be struggling with the financial side of putting their challenge together earlier this year. Along with the two other late entries in Stars and Stripes Team USA and DutchSail, the Maltese challenge was said to be on shaky ground early on in their preparations.
Stars and Stripes Team USA and DutchSail remain involved to this point, and have until July 1 to confirm their respective challenges.
A joint statement released by Auckland Council and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said the loss of one challenger wouldn't stop the event from being successful.
"While Malta is unable to mount a challenge for the America's Cup, Luna Rossa, Ineos and American Magic have reaffirmed they'll be at the start line in 2021 with Stars + Stripes USA and Dutch Sail due to confirm by 1 July. We have the critical mass of challengers we need for the 36th America's Cup to be a great success."
The Times of Malta reported in February that Malta Altus team principal Pasquale Cataldi had been unable to tie up a support agreement with the government that would help the Italian entrepreneur be in a position to mount a serious challenge in 2021. At the time, Cataldi was pressing on with plans for the challenge in the hope an agreement would eventually be struck. However, since then there had been little information about the progress of the challenge.
"We are wanting the Prada Cup to include as many teams as possible," Luna Rossa challenge boss Laurent Esquier said in a statement.
"While we have done all we can to support the Malta Altus Challenge, they haven't been able to bring together all the layers of complexity that are needed to continue with an America's Cup challenge. We are still guaranteed to have an exciting and highly competitive Prada Cup to select the final challenger to race against Emirates Team New Zealand in the Match."