The main contractor for the £350 million-plus Aberdeen Harbour expansion has pulled out, leaving nearly one-third of the work undone.
Aberdeen Harbour Board (AHB) confirmed Spanish-owned Dragados UK will no longer be involved in the project.
Its role will formally end on Monday, when harbour bosses take full responsibility for the site.
A procurement process for work required to complete the final 30% of the project is now under way.
The works – which will allow more, and larger, vessels to dock in the city – had already been hit by delays which forced bosses to cancel visits from 11 cruise ships, before the Covid-19 pandemic broke out.
Dragados UK could not be contacted and has given no details of the impact on jobs.
But a statement from the firm said it was “proud of the progress achieved”, adding: “The Covid-19 emergency and other factors have meant that our involvement… has ended earlier than originally anticipated.
“We wish the project every success as it progresses towards completion.”
Dragados UK had been working to a revised timetable on the transformational development after technical challenges pushed the completion date to 2021.
In line with Scottish Government guidance, activities on the new south harbour have recently been restricted to essential safety and security measures.
AHB chief executive Michelle Handforth said: “This year’s summer season was of critical importance to the Aberdeen Harbour expansion project, as we endeavoured to complete a series of major construction milestones and continued to address the rock removal challenges first identified in October last year.
“The interruption to the schedule as a result of the Covid-19 emergency has had the effect of greatly compounding those existing challenges.
“It is too early at this stage to confirm what impact this will have on the construction timeline, especially given current Covid-19 restrictions, but the intention for a phased opening, when safe to do so, remains unaffected.”
An AHB spokesman added: “The development of the south harbour will continue and, in that respect, the work is not going away. It will just be reallocated.
“There is a tender process under way and there will continue to be local supply chain opportunities.”
North-east Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald said he had written to Transport Secretary Michael Matheson seeking reassurances over the Scottish Government’s commitment to the project.
Scottish Conservative North East MSP Liam Kerr said: “Aberdeen Harbour Board is facing huge challenges and this announcement highlights the detrimental effect Covid-19 is having.
“This is a time where we must stand up for Aberdeen. Not only will this project help accelerate the north-east’s aim of being at the forefront of the world’s energy sector, the development will be huge for the city’s… tourism sector.”
Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce chief executive Russell Borthwick said it was “absolutely vital” for the work to be completed as close to the original timetable as possible.
Mr Borthwick added: “What we are hearing about today is probably a fair way of both parties saying that 70% of the work has been completed, the 30% that is left is very specialist and there are probably other suppliers out there with better skills to take this project over the line.
“It is obviously a tender which is publicly available and a chance for local suppliers.”
Last week, it emerged AHB had put a £15m contract out to tender for “the completion of works” for the project.
Details on the Public Contracts Scotland website showed the port’s bosses were seeking a contractor with the “ability to mobilise and commence works quickly”.
The new four-month contract is for “works that are required to complete specific elements” of the project.
AHB also wants to “prevent coastal erosion impacting on local infrastructure and loss of partially constructed works and associated potential impact on the marine environment”.
There was a major blow for the development months before the Covid-19 pandemic when delays to the work forced bosses to cancel at least 11 bookings for huge cruise ships that were originally due to dock in Aberdeen this year.
AHB announced the work would not be completed until 2021, citing “technical challenges in the dredging programme associated with the south breakwater”.
But they highlighted significant progress, despite unhelpful weather, on other aspects of the development.
AHB’s project is intended to add thousands of feet of new quayside, with a water depth of up to 35ft, and create an additional 410,105sq ft of lay-down area.
Dragados UK started work on the site in April 2017 after six years of consultation and lobbying by AHB. Funding for the development included a £200m loan from the European Investment Bank, plus £36m from the Aberdeen City and Region Deal and councils for improving nearby roads.