Hawaii Superferry to Resume Service to and from Kaua'i Commencing September 26

The Hawaii Superferry (HSF) will resume service to Kaua’i on September 26, according to its operators. A statement released on the Superferry Web site said, “We are pleased to learn that Hawai’i Superferry will be able to resume service to and from Kaua'i commencing September 26. The Governor, the U.S. Coast Guard, and various state and county agencies have provided Hawai’i Superferry with assurances regarding the safety of our passengers, employees and the members of the community when Kaua‘i service is resumed. In the near future, we will provide more details regarding our resumption of service between Kaua‘i and O'ahu. We look forward to providing a safe and reliable inter-island ferry service for the residents and business community of Hawai‘i.”

The Superferry’s initial trip to Kauai was blocked by protesters on surfboards at the harbor entrance. Because Coast Guard forces were unable to control them, the vessel turned around and went back to Honolulu after almost three hours of waiting just outside the harbor. Service there was suspended until the Coast Guard was able to assure safe passage -- something it now feels is possible. In the meantime, court testimony on the matter is ongoing this week. The question of whether the Superferry can continue service while an environmental assessment takes place will be answered by a local judge.

Opponents of the ferry, primarily consisting of Sierra Club activists, have asked for a new injunction that would not allow Superferry to operate while an environmental assessment was conducted by the State. An environmental assessment can take as many as six months to document. Additionally, opponents lobbied to stop Superferry from operating at any State port. Eventually, the temporary restraining order (TRO) was extended until the evidentiary hearings can be completed.

HSF has contested the extension of the Maui TRO and reportedly intends to vigorously contest the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary and/or permanent injunction. The company will also strongly contest any expansion of the TRO or of a preliminary and/or permanent injunction to the company’s operations in Kaua’i or O’ahu.

Yesterday, Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle issued a press release that promised strict enforcement of federal, state and county laws and a temporary security zone established at Nawiliwili Harbor by the United States Coast Guard. “We have worked with our county and federal partners to make certain that the resumption of Hawai‘i Superferry service to Kaua‘i focused on public safety, first and foremost,” said Governor Lingle. She added, in the prepared statement, “We respect everyone’s right to voice their opinion, but we will not allow a small group of protestors to act out in a lawless manner to obstruct the operations of a legitimate business, intimidate the people who wish to use its services or put people’s lives at risk.”

The Superferry’s primary equity investor is J. F. Lehman and Company, which put up $85 million, but the federal Maritime Administration also provided a loan guarantee of $140 million. At issue for the Superferry is the potential environmental impact of the new service on the local ecosystem and the possibility of the fast-moving boat to hit whales. But supporters say the ferry is being treated unfairly because other harbor users such as cruise ships do not have to go through the same extensive environmental reviews. They contend that the standards should apply to all players in this market. The Superferry’s design incorporates many environmentally-friendly design features, including the ship's water jet propulsion system that eliminates exposed propellers which might strike aquatic animals.

The Superferry’s primary goal of allowing all Hawaiians to travel freely between islands in an economic fashion, as well as to promote local business ventures, also has the local elite -- who see their private, unreachable world suddenly impacted by everyday residents -- worried. In sharp contrast, local cruise ship traffic has not received nearly as much attention from activists, despite the increased environmental footprint left by larger vessels, handling far more passengers. The inequities of the two positions have not gone unnoticed by Hawaii Superferry and its supporters. The State’s estimated 1.2 million residents will apparently have to wait a little longer for wide-ranging inter-island travel that does not depend exclusively on the local airlines.