Auckland port leaders to meet council over mid-year financial results

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff says Ports of Auckland’s half-year financial results are “disappointing” and the port’s leaders have been asked to appear before the council to discuss them.

Goff said the company had been asked to appear before the council controlled organisations committee on March 23.

The committee comprises the majority of councillors. Auckland Council is the sole owner of the port, New Zealand’s main marine gateway for imports.The port company’s leaders are chief executive Tony Gibson and new chairman Bill Osborne, a director since 2017.

“As I have expressed previously, the council as shareholder is expecting from Ports a better result and a return to paying dividends to Auckland ratepayers as soon as possible,” Goff said.”

It has reported a 20.8 per cent drop in net profit after tax for the six months to December 31, a 12.4 per cent fall in container volume, and revenue was down 7.3 per cent on thesame period last financial year.

The port will not pay the council an interim dividend.

Car import volumes, the port’s bread and butter earner, were also well down at 104,224 units compared to 124,295.

Net profit after tax was $13.6 million against $17.1m mid year in 2020. Profit before tax was $17.9m ($20.7m).

Total general cargo was 3.15m tonnes compared to 3.29m.

However, Gibson said while he was also disappointed in the mid-year results, financially, the year had been better than forecast.

He suggested the second-half-year results might not make good reading either.

The first half of the 2021 financial year had been “incredibly hard” for the business and the second half would also be difficult, he said.

But the port company had plans in place to resolve issues that affected the first half year and expected to lift performance in FY22.

Goff and the council have asked for an independent report on the container terminal automation project on completion. It started in 2016 and is yet to be fully implemented.

Its cost to date isn’t being revealed by either the port or the council owner.

Gibson blamed Covid-19-created global supply congestion for a big part of the first six months’ performance, saying it had flow-on effects to implementation and caused delays to ships being unloaded at the container terminal.

Those issues are around Covid-19’s impact on the port company’s prolonged container terminal automation implementation project, a shortage of crane and straddle drivers and a lacklustre container throughput performance at a time of rampant global container shipping congestion.Since October, container ships have been waiting outside the port for up to 14 days to be unloaded. But this week the port said no ships were waiting.

Stevedore labour shortages have also bedevilled the port’s productivity.

Gibson said most disappointing was how Covid-19 had delayed automation’s “go-live” date in March last year.

“We couldn’t train people, we couldn’t bring people out from Europe to support go-live.

“But despite what is being said, we are very happy with progress.”

Not so frustrated importers, freight forwarders, retailers and manufacturers and other parts of the North Island supply chain which has experienced flow-on congestion from the port’s issues.

Gibson said automation was progressing well and with labour shortages alleviated, six cranes of the port’s eight big cranes would be operating by late April.

Full automation would go live in June or early July.

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