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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 11, 2001

Time to open Hawai'i waters to new shipping

There are still plenty of Islanders who remember the glamour and excitement of the trans-Pacific passenger liners such as the Lurline that plied between Hawai'i and the West Coast.

While those days are long gone, victims of a hurried-up world and jet travel, there's a chance that they could return. With a twist.

The demise of the interisland cruise line American Classic Voyages has stirred new interest in putting other ships into the interisland cruise business. The problem, of course, is federal law that prevents foreign ships from sailing between U.S. ports.

Next month, Norwegian Cruise Line will begin local interisland service. But to get around federal law, it will have to make a "ghost" run out of U.S. waters to Fanning Island and back.

It is time for Congress to lift this restriction, at least until the day when another domestic company is interested in and willing to provide interisland service. There may be any number of foreign carriers that would be interested in joining Norwegian in the Island market, particularly considering world conditions elsewhere.

But beyond sailing among the islands of Hawai'i, lifting the restriction against foreign carriers would allow lines to offer passage to and from Hawai'i and the West Coast. An increasing number of liners are making port calls in Hawai'i, but they are unable to offer domestic service.

It makes no sense to prevent them from doing so. There is no domestic industry that is protected by this restriction, and there is obviously a market to be served.

Putting foreign ships into interisland or even Mainland-Hawai'i service would not rescue the jobs of the people who worked aboard the American Classic ships, of course. And that's a shame.

But it would help the many shoreside businesses that developed to service those ships as they called on the various islands. And there is no reason the foreign carriers might not take aboard some of the local entertainers and cultural specialists who were so popular.

Providing service from the West Coast would produce a boost for the overall visitor industry as well. It would bring in some visitors who do not wish to fly, and it might catch the attention of past visitors who would now have a new and intriguing reason to pay a repeat visit.

Hawai'i Sen. Dan Inouye said he might entertain an exemption of this sort under the proper conditions. It would seem those conditions have been met.