Hawaii Superferry halts Kauai route
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Hawaii Superferry indefinitely canceled all future Kaua'i trips yesterday following protests that prevented it from landing on the Garden Isle on Monday night.
The action came ahead of a crucial hearing today before a Maui judge who will consider what could be a suspension of the company's Maui service until the state completes an environmental assessment.
Superferry officials were already barred from operating the route from Honolulu to Maui because of a temporary restraining order issued Monday by 2nd Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza.
Hawaii Superferry president and CEO John Garibaldi said yesterday's decision to cancel future Kaua'i trips was made after Coast Guard officials informed the company that they could not guarantee the Alakai's safe passage into Nawiliwili Harbor.
Hundreds of protesters in Nawiliwili Harbor on Monday night kept the 350-foot catamaran out of the harbor for three hours, and it turned around and headed back to Honolulu.
"Based on our current assessment of the situation in Nawiliwili, we made a recommendation to the state that it would not have been a safe transit into the harbor. ... In this instance, the risk level was too high for the vessel, its passengers and for the protesters," said Capt. Vince Atkins, the Coast Guard's Captain of the Port, Honolulu, in a statement.
"These surfers, swimmers, and other protesters in the water place themselves and the ferry in danger when they disregard the law. ... We have used the minimum force necessary to ensure safety to this point. Safety and security is a shared responsibility, and I don't want anyone to underestimate the risks they undertake when they challenge the law."
Garibaldi said ferry service to Kaua'i would be suspended "until we can assure ourselves that we can operate in a safe mode. Our whole goal is to provide a safe and reliable ferry system for Hawai'i's residents. And until we can satisfy ourselves that we can provide that service, it's on indefinite suspension."
Garibaldi said he would also need assurances from the Coast Guard of safe passage for the ferry into Nawiliwili Harbor. He described the protests on Kaua'i that have blocked the ferry as "unprecedented."
Garibaldi said he did not believe starting ferry service to Maui and Kaua'i on Sunday, two days ahead of schedule, was premature.
"Not at all," he said. "I think our company was ready to go."
Gov. Linda Lingle yesterday said she urged Superferry officials not to attempt another trip to Kaua'i.
"I'm concerned about the safety of people," she said. "We have reason to believe (protesters) ... would be in the water again trying to stop a huge vessel on a surfboard, and that's a recipe for a serious problem. So we're asking Superferry, 'Don't go in. Let's make certain that the public safety is protected.' "
She said she will continue "to ask them not to go in until I'm convinced that it's safe for them to go in."
Asked her thoughts on the protesters, the governor said she was saddened. "I respect everybody's point of view, but it's just sad. It's really too bad what they're doing," she said.
Arrangements will be made to return passengers and their vehicles who took the ferry to Kaua'i before yesterday's decision, Garibaldi said.
"I'm really saddened by the current situation, but I'm heartened by the future of the long-term relationship that we are developing with a lot of people here in the state," he said.
At the Superferry terminal at Pier 19 yesterday, company officials offered to reimburse Honolulu-to-Kaua'i passengers for cab rides, a night in a hotel and meal costs up to $25 per passenger per day. They also offered five free future trips.
Hawaiian Airlines and go! Airlines are offering special fares for ticketed ferry passengers.
The cancellations upset several ticketed passengers, including Teresa Osthoff of 'Ewa Beach, who had special $5 one-way fares to Kaua'i yesterday with her hanai daughter, Ashley, 15.
"I'm so mad," said Osthoff, who also was on Monday night's voyage that ended with the Alakai sitting offshore. "We caught TheBus all the way from 'Ewa Beach."
Despite the problems of the night before, Osthoff was determined to make the trip to visit her son, a Kaua'i policeman who is on his way to a military deployment to Iraq, and her grandson.
"It was my opportunity with a reasonable rate to go," Teresa said. "It's not fair."
Not everyone was upset.
On Kaua'i, police and protesters alike welcomed the decision to cancel Superferry trips to Kaua'i.
"Things are quite volatile and need to be dampened," said Sandra Wright of Kilauea.
Tony Lydgate of Wailua Homesteads, Kaua'i, said: "I cannot tell you how relieved I was. I sure wasn't looking to going down to Nawiliwili tonight (to protest the ferry), but I was planning to go."
Lydgate likes the idea of the ferry and expects to use it, but said the Superferry's decision to launch service immediately after a Hawai'i Supreme Court decision calling for an environmental assessment was a poor one.
"Their message should have been: 'We regret the court's decision, but out of respect for the rule of law, we will delay the inauguration of service,' " Lydgate said. "In that instant, they galvanized the opposition. There is now a core of people opposed to the ferry, like in the 1960s."
Some passengers back on O'ahu remained optimistic about the vessel's future.
Howard Mote II of Waikiki walked out of the terminal yesterday wearing the blue Superferry shirt he bought onboard for $59 during his trip to Kaua'i on Sunday night and carrying the free tote bag that read, "Alakai Inaugural Voyages 2007."
Sunday's Kaua'i run was disrupted by protesters for about two hours but the Alakai eventually docked.
"Despite it all, we wanted to do it again," said Mote's friend, Janelle Eddy, of Portland, Ore.
Mote owns an industrial commercial repair business and planned to someday take his work trucks and other equipment on the ferry to expand his business to Kaua'i.
Instead, yesterday he was considering the long-term future of the Hawaii Superferry.
"I think it'll be around," he said. "It'll survive. I think the people of Hawai'i are behind it. I see it as something that's great for trade, great for travel."
As he spoke, a group of 11 protesters formed outside the Superferry's Kukahi Street entrance carrying signs against both the Superferry and what protesters said are plans for the ferry to transport Army Stryker combat vehicles between the islands.
"The Superferry is definitely for the Stryker brigade," said Ikaika Hussey of the group DMZ Hawaii Aloha 'Aina, which opposes military activity in the Islands. "We're not just opposed to transporting the Strykers, we're opposed to Strykers in Hawai'i."
When plans were first announced for the project, Superferry officials had said the vessel could transport the eight-wheeled military vehicles from O'ahu to training areas on the Big Island.
IN COURT ON MAUI TODAY
Major problems for the ferry began last week, when the Hawai'i Supreme Court ruled that the state needs to conduct an environmental assessment of the ferry's effects on harbor improvements on Maui.
Today, Judge Cardoza has scheduled a 1:30 p.m. hearing to determine whether to continue a ban on the ferry's use of Maui's Kahului Harbor until the state conducts an environmental assessment, which could take months or years.
Cardoza's temporary restraining order allows the ferry to pick up passengers and their vehicles who were stranded on Maui.
Superferry officials said they were planning to fly some passengers back to O'ahu but that vehicles cannot be picked up until tomorrow or Friday.
On its Web site, the company said it has canceled its Maui voyages for tomorrow and that it hoped to resume Maui service on Friday.
Environmental activists hoped the state Supreme Court's ruling would delay the ferry's launch.
Instead, the ferry set sail two days ahead of schedule on Sunday with special one-way fares of $5 per passenger and $5 per vehicle — less than a tenth of the regularly scheduled fares.
Last Wednesday, Garibaldi said in a statement that "we have received assurances from the Coast Guard that the Alakai and its passengers will have safe passage throughout its route, including into and out of Nawiliwili Harbor on Kaua'i."
Kaua'i police arrested three protesters Sunday night on misdemeanor charges, including disorderly conduct, harassment, criminal trespass and obstructing government operations. On Monday night, police and Coast Guardsmen arrested 11 more protesters — including four juveniles.
In addition to state penalties, the protesters face federal penalties for allegedly violating a 100-yard "safety zone" around the Alakai, said Coast Guard Lt. John Titchen.
Coast Guardsmen photographed and videotaped the protesters, Titchen said, and plan to submit the images and arrest reports to the U.S. attorney's office.
COAST GUARD BEEFS UP
Violations of the safety zone could result in federal fines of up to $32,500 per violation, where each additional day of a violation is a separate violation, or criminal penalties including imprisonment for up to 10 years and a fine of up to $10,000, seizure and forfeiture of the vessel, the Coast Guard said.
Coast Guard officials Monday night sent the 110-foot cutter Galveston Island and its crew of 18 to Kaua'i, along with three 25-foot, semi-rigid-hull boats and a 15-member Marine Safety and Security Team, Titchen said.
The crews and equipment augmented the 20 Coast Guardsmen stationed on Kaua'i and 12 more assigned to the 87-foot patrol boat Kittiwake, which is stationed out of Nawiliwili Harbor, Titchen said.
Coast Guard officials were clearly sensitive yesterday about comments on that agency's role regarding the Superferry.
"We must remain neutral," Titchen said. "It's easy for people to look at the U.S. Coast Guard and say we are working to ensure the transit of the Superferry. We are not. ... We won't run down people in our boats. We have levels of the use of minimum force we can use to ensure compliance."Advertiser staff writer Jan TenBruggencate contributed to this report.