It follows an interim injunction made in the National Court in Madang on March 19 by a group of individuals, who claim to have an interest in customary land in and around Basamuk Bay, which brought a stop to construction of the deep sea tailings displacement facilities.
The project is being developed by Ramu NiCo, a 61%-owned subsidiary of China Metallurgical Construction Corporation (MCC) as project manager, with Highlands Pacific holding 8.56% but with potential to move to 20.55%.
Other Chinese groups involved with MCC are Jinchuan Group, Jilin Jien Nickel Industry Co and Jiuquan Iron and Steel (Group) Co.
Highlands managing director John Gooding told Miningnews.net the recent court news "was quite profound given the project is almost complete and around $US1.4 billion ($A1.53 billion) had already been spent on its development".
"While this is frustrating, this is not the first time we have had obstacles put in front of us," he said.
"The whole premise of the project is based on deep sea tailings and world authorities on such tailings placement agreed at a conference in Madang two years ago that it (deep sea tailings) was the best outcome for Ramu given the high rainfall of PNG, seismic events within the country and the steep terrain."
He stressed the partners had obtained the support of the four landowner groups since day one at Ramu, who fully supported its development.
"This claim is by another group of individuals who claim to have an interest in some of the land around the bay," Gooding added.
The actual mine is located 135 kilometres from the coast and 75km from the provincial capital of Madang, on a plateau 800m above sea level, with material sent to the processing plant near the coast via a slurry pipeline.
The project is expected to produce 31,150 tonnes of nickel and 3300t of cobalt per annum in a high-grade concentrate over a 20-year mine life.
However, resources have the potential to increase the mine life by a further 15-20 years.
Progressive commissioning started late in the December quarter last year and production is expected to start by June this year, with a staged ramp up through the December quarter.
Shares in Highlands Pacific were down 1.92% in afternoon trade to A25.5c.