Time to open Island waters to foreign ships
When it comes to the mushrooming passenger cruise industry, Hawai'i is all but missing the boat.
So we're encouraged to hear that Sen. Dan Inouye is in talks with Norwegian Cruise Line to work out an agreement that would allow the company to operate interisland cruises without the federally required trip to the foreign port of Fanning Island.
Simply put, if Norwegian's cruise vessels didn't have to spend several days out of their seven-day cruises making that round trip, they'd offer a more attractive product to visitors, who would spend more time in Hawai'i ports.
With the demise of American Classic Voyages, which operated interisland cruise ships in Hawai'i, Inouye has opened the door a crack for Norwegian. That's saying something, considering his decades-long, staunch defense of the Jones Act (which protects domestic cargo shippers) and the related 1886 Passenger Vessel Services Act covering passenger liners.
American Classic's bankruptcy in effect was the end of the domestic passenger cruise industry. Of the two new passenger liners that were to be built in Pascagoula, Miss., for American Classic, one sits half-finished on the shipyard ways, an extravagant souvenir for taxpayers.
There is plenty of interest remaining in interisland cruises, but it comes from foreign-owned companies. The Norwegian Star is already home-ported here, joined for part of the year by its sister ship, Wind. These foreign-flagged vessels have been able to get around the 1886 law because each voyage includes the "foreign" call at Fanning.
Inouye has bent a bit, enough to consider an exemption to the Passenger Services Act to allow foreign-registered ships to operate domestically, but only under strict conditions, including using American labor, following American laws, paying federal taxes and operating without any form of gambling. Commendably Norwegian already has demonstrated its willingness to conform to local wishes by closing the casinos on the Star.
In effect, Inouye is trying to get Norwegian to operate under the same rules and restrictions that applied to American Classic. That would have made sense if American Classic were still operating, but it isn't.
Hawai'i could benefit from increased competition and alternatives for interisland cruising and even, potentially, for cruises operating between here and the West Coast.
When an archaic law protecting a nonexistent domestic industry is keeping Hawai'i from benefiting from a lucrative and expanding foreign one, it's time for expansive changes. We hope Inouye is ready to update his views.