By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau
WAILUKU, Maui A new Molokai-to-Maui ferry is expected to be running as early as the end of this month, providing a welcome economic boost to the island with the states highest unemployment rate.
David Jung, CEO of Sea Link of Hawaii, said his company will offer service between Kaunakakai and Lahaina on a 149-passenger vessel previously used for whale watching and fishing in the San Francisco area.
The 100-foot Molokai Princess is in Seattle undergoing a $250,000 overhaul. Jung declined to say just how much the vessel cost.
The previous Molokai ferry shut down in October 1996 after a $300,000 annual state contract was canceled and the number of passengers fell. Jung said the economy is strong now and the time is right to start up without a government subsidy.
Sea Link plans daily round-trip service Monday through Saturday. The charge for Molokai commuters will be $15 for a round trip. Others will pay $40 each way, $20 each way for children.
Jung said he hopes government agencies will help the workers pay for their transportation costs.
"Our first priority with this vessel is to get people to work at decent-paying jobs on Maui. The second is to provide an opportunity for Molokai residents to do one-day shopping trips on Maui," he said.
Local officials welcomed the move, saying it will benefit Maui and Molokai. While employment prospects are bleak on Molokai, West Maui is experiencing a shortage of workers. Molokai endured another blow this week when the Kaluakoi Resort said it was temporarily closing, putting 99 full-time employees out of work.
The service also will provide affordable interisland transportation for Molokai High School teams that compete on Maui.
"Hopefully, well get a lot of support. People know Molokai needs help," Jung said.
The refitted vessel is scheduled to set sail for Hawaii within 10 days.
Powered by three 1,200-horsepower diesels, the Molokai Princess will cruise at 22 mph. The distance between Kaunakakai and Lahaina is 25 miles, and a one-way trip should last about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Although the new service will not receive a state subsidy, Jung did obtain a commercial ocean recreation permit from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources allowing it to operate out of Lahaina Harbor.
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