Law needed as our cruise business booms
With other sectors of our visitor industry struggling, it is good news that the cruise ship business in the Islands appears to be booming.
Staff writer Dan Nakaso reports that cruise visitors to the Islands surged by more than 50 percent in the first half of this year. While that is still small potatoes compared with other sectors, it is clearly a growth area worth watching.
These are affluent travelers who may well come back if they have a good experience during their brief time ashore.
And conversely, the cruise experience will also attract repeat visitors because it is something different than the last time around.
So there are plenty of positives in this news.
But the growth of the cruise industry (and there's no reason to expect anything other than it will continue to grow) presents serious environmental and even social policy issues that the state must address.
Today's cruise industry is far more environmentally sophisticated and careful than even a few years ago. Advanced engineering on the power plants and high-tech environmental controls make the new generation of vessels much more clean and "green" than earlier ships.
And the industry has become aware that it is in its own best interests to be environmentally squeaky clean. After all, they are selling cruises in Hawai'i's beautiful waters and climate; why would they want to pollute it with uncontrolled exhaust or dumping of garbage or waste?
Still, these liners are floating "cities" that must be subject to strict, measurable and enforceable controls.
There are two ways of accomplishing this. The first is a memorandum of understanding between the industry and officials of the ports where they call. Such memorandums are in place in Florida, for instance, and they dictate what will be done with sewage and garbage, how exhaust will be managed and the like.
The other model, used in Alaska, is based on a law that sets out standards for the industry in Alaskan waters.
The industry prefers the memorandum approach, arguing it is more flexible for constantly changing conditions and can be better tailored to unique conditions in a particular cruising area.
From Hawai'i's perspective, a law similar to that in place in Alaska would seem to make more sense. It creates an enforcement mechanism that would stand behind whatever rules and regulations are put in place.
Surely, the industry should be at the table as the law is written. And a law could even include provisions for "emergency" changes in regulations if conditions suddenly change.
Having a statutory regulatory scheme in place will ensure that the sparkling prospects for this exciting new part of our visitor industry will remain just that: sparkling.