The first berth of Container Terminal 9 (CT9) will be delayed by at least eight months, mainly because of a cross-border toxic-mud dumping dispute, according to an industry source. The berth, originally scheduled to be handed to the developer next month and made operational by May, is now expected to be handed over by next September, the source said. CT9 project director David Holmes conceded there would be a delay for the first berth because of the mud dispute, but did not give a time. 'The first berth might be a bit late, but the whole project should be completed by 2004,' he said. According to a pact between the Government and the developer, the six berths are due to become operational every six months from May until the end of 2004. The new berths are expected to handle up to 2.6 million containers a year, adding about 25 per cent to the 11.5 million containers processed by the existing eight terminals. As a result of the mud-dumping dispute, the contractor was forced to dump mud in local waters on a longer time-scale instead of in mainland waters as had been planned. CT9 will generate 6.6 million cubic metres of toxic mud - now being dumped in seabed pits off Chek Lap Kok airport. The delay was aggravated by toxic mud drifting back into the trenches of the terminal sites from the sea bed of the Rambler Channel. The contractor also faced piling difficulties at the site due to an irregular seabed. The industry source said the hold-up might cost the contractor, South Korean-government backed Hyundai-China Civil Engineering and Construction Company, hundreds of thousands of dollars a day in fines to the developer. He said it was likely there would be lawsuits raised by various parties claiming compensation. The contractor is also negotiating with the Government to relax the 16,000-cubic-metre ceiling for toxic mud that can be disposed of daily at the pits, to speed up construction. A Civil Engineering Department spokesman said it would hold trials next month to see if the limit could be adjusted. The $10 billion CT9 project was sealed in 1998 with developers including Hong Kong International Terminals, Modern Terminals and Asia Container Terminals. Dr Charles Li Kui-wai, from the Department of Economics and Finance at Polytechnic University, said the delay might have a positive effect in easing competition among existing operators.