Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, October 23, 2001

Tourism Talk
Cruise line's bankruptcy leaves huge void once filled with Island spirit

By Michele Kayal
Advertiser Staff Writer

Will this never end?

Every day, or so it feels, we hear about more layoffs, more companies struggling, more moms and dads on unemployment lines. All from that great sucking spiral set in motion Sept. 11.

They're all hard on the heart, but the demise of Hawai'i's interisland cruise lines into bankruptcy last week struck the sorest blow yet. American Classic Voyages brought 1,100 jobs to the Islands, but it also brought much more: a way to pull visitors into the spirit of the Islands with a romantic ship called the Independence.

The great old lady was breathing yesterday, tied ignobly to an industrial pier in Honolulu where the smells of fish and brine and lurking trash surrounded her. Steam billowed from her lei-encircled stacks, the green and purple ones always so visible from Nimitz Highway. Inside, all was quiet, a loud, lonely quiet, ruled by the hum of the ventilation system, the rumble of the engines underfoot.

In the Kamaaina Lounge, that giant Hawaiian living room, the strings of the baby grand piano vibrated dully to the rhythm of the boilers, filling the room with a long, low base. In a first-class suite, glasses clinked together irritatingly to the rise and fall of the vibration.

The beds were stripped. The linens gathered. A phantom fragrance of cherry-scented disinfectant ran along the corridors. Pictures still hung on the walls, no longer instructional items on Hawaiian culture but "assets" not to be removed from the ship except by court order.

The remnants of something sticky stuck on a table in the Hapa Haole Bar. In another cabin, a forgotten wine glass hid on the nightstand.

The Independence turned 50 this year among much fanfare. It was old, perhaps even shabby, compared with the shiny new ships rolling off the lines, or even to its companion ship the Patriot. But its teak decks and railings — too much work for modern vessels — conjured the days when it was reverently called an "ocean liner." When President Harry Truman, Walt Disney, Ernest Hemingway, Rita Hayworth and other celebrities sailed in its cabins from New York to the Mediterranean. When its brass steering wheel — now the only one on a sailing ship — was standard equipment on all cruise liners.

No wrap-around starlight deck here, no two-tiered dining room or ice skating rinks. Just a whole lot of mana.

The Independence came to Hawai'i more than 20 years ago and has been here since. And there will be other ships.

Norwegian Cruise Line is going to base its brand new 2,200-passenger Star here in December, and make another ship a permanent fixture for the winter as well. Big, beautiful vessels like Celebrity Cruises' Infinity plan to make Hawai'i a frequent stop. They will be big — so big they just fit through the Panama Canal. They will be new, they will be nice. But will they have the mana?

American Classic's destination services manager Kevin Murray says at the end of the week the Independence will head to San Francisco, where dockage fees are half what they charge in Honolulu. An uncertain fate awaits the ship there, a fate likely to be decided by the court.

American Classic's predicament leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Will there be a Jones Act exemption, allowing a foreign company to sail the Islands the way American Classic did? Will the company go through with the new ships it's building? And if so, will they really wind up in Hawai'i? There is a long legislative road between now and 2004, when the first ship is scheduled to leave the yard.

It seems a bitter irony that a state surrounded by water will no longer have its own cruise line. Perhaps even more bitter is the fact that terrorists who sought to attack the American spirit have claimed as their victims two proud ships called the Independence and the Patriot.