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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 9, 2008

Superferry in drydock till April 22

By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor


Check for Hawaii Superferry travel updates at www.HawaiiSuperferry.com or call 877-HI-FERRY (877-443-3779).

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Hawaii Superferry is extending its drydock period through April 22 while the company continues repairs to its $85 million catamaran, the Alakai.

The 350-foot high-speed vessel has not been operating since Feb. 13, and by the time the interisland ferry returns to service, it will have been out of service for more days than it has been running since its Dec. 13 relaunch.

In addition to the drydock period, the ferry canceled voyages between Honolulu and Maui for two weeks because of rough winter seas.

Hawaii Superferry originally announced it would be in drydock until March 3 to strengthen the metal surrounding the auxiliary rudders after cracks were found. When the aluminum hull sustained damage during the drydocking process, the company delayed the restart of service until March 25.

The Advertiser learned Friday from the state Department of Transportation that the drydock was being extended a second time, but when asked about the delay, Superferry director of business development Terry O'Halloran said the March 25 restart date "has always been an estimate and we are evaluating the work schedule."

The company announced yesterday the Alakai would be spending additional time in drydock. O'Halloran said extra time is needed to finish repairs and the extension is not because of any new problems discovered while the ferry has been in drydock. He did not have an estimate of the cost of repairs.

Hawaii Superferry officials earlier said the rudder problem is the result of a design flaw, and that a similar vessel built by Austal recently experienced the same trouble.

Rudder repairs are covered under warranty, O'Halloran said.

A team from the Australia-based company Austal has been assisting with the repairs.

"As with any of our vessels, Austal will work with an owner to understand the nature of a reported problem and upon understanding the cause, provide the appropriate technical assistance, repair or replacement item," marketing manager Richard Williams said in an e-mail.

Austal last week was awarded Engineering Project of the Year by the Mobile Area Council of Engineers in Alabama for building the Alakai, the largest aluminum vessel constructed in the United States. The project was recognized for its superiority in engineering technology and the effect it had on the Mobile area, home of Austal's shipyard.


With the Alakai out of operation, many of the Superferry's part-time port employees have been out of work.

Although disappointing to the company and its employees and supporters, the drydock episode will save the state DOT tens of thousands of dollars in tugboat fees at Kahului Harbor.

The department had planned to spend up to $350,000 for 10 weeks of tugboat service to keep a state-owned barge snug against the end of Pier 2C during winter ocean surges and to provide safe loading and unloading of Superferry passengers and vehicles.

The agency requested the amount to pay P&M Marine Services LLC to provide services from Jan. 18 to March 31, but the state Procurement Office instructed the DOT to instead ask for price quotes from P&M Marine Services and a second vendor, Hawaiian Tug & Barge, every two weeks.

DOT Deputy Director of Harbors Michael Formby said the competition knocked the price down from about $1,000 to $1,200 an hour to $800 an hour.

Now, with the Alakai in drydock through April 22, the state's costs will be reduced substantially. Once the ship went into drydock, the barge was moved from the end of the pier to the side where it is more protected and does not require tugboat assistance.

In the meantime, Formby said, the DOT and Hawaii Superferry continue to negotiate over who will foot the bill for the tugboat and surge-related barge and pier repairs.

Under an operating agreement between the DOT and Hawaii Superferry, the state owns the barge and has an obligation to deliver the platform with mooring systems in place to the company. Once Superferry accepts the barges, it assumes the cost of maintenance and repairs.

Formby said company and state officials are discussing whether the DOT met its "state equipment availability date" under the operating agreement and whether the company formally accepted the barges, as well as the official ferry commencement date.


The DOT, Hawaii Superferry and barge builder Healy Tibbitts Builders Inc. also are engaged in a dispute over who is responsible for problems with the Kahului barge's mooring system, according to a document obtained by The Advertiser.

In a Sept. 25 letter to Formby, Superferry operations vice president Terry White asserted the mooring system is inadequate and documented multiple failures that occurred even during small swells.

White noted a July failure that apparently was caused by "overstressed" wires and similar failures on four occasions in September.

"If HSF had not placed some secondary soft lines on this barge, it could well have come adrift," White said. He instructed the DOT and 'Aiea-based Healy Tibbitts "to take ownership" of fixing the problem.

His letter was sent before a mid-November swell caused the barge to bump up against the Pier 2C fender, snapping several soft lines, or ropes, and denting the platform. In early December, unusually large wave action in the Maui harbor snapped four lines securing the barge to the pier and uprooted two mooring bollards.

The barge was damaged by swells again in mid-January.

Healy Tibbitts project manager Clay Hutchinson said in a Sept. 18 letter in response to state concerns about the mooring system that the company's design engineers determined there were no defects in equipment, materials or workmanship, and that the mooring lines had been manipulated after the barge was turned over to the DOT, "leading to improper reinstallation by others."

The company also said that thrust from the Alakai's water jets was overloading the mooring system.

Since the impact of jet thrust was not included in the DOT's design criteria for the barge and mooring system, Healy Tibbitts said the mooring systems at the Kahului and Honolulu ports "are no longer able to be covered under warranty as their components have been subjected to loads outside of their original design capacities."

In an Oct. 5 response, Formby noted the Alakai did not berth at Kahului in September when some of the failures occurred. At the time, the ferry was under a Maui court order not to operate due to environmental concerns.

The harbors chief said the state is not "prepared to concede at this time that (Healy Tibbitts) has no mooring warranty obligations under its contract," and wanted to continue to investigate.

In a separate Oct. 5 letter to Hawaii Superferry, Formby said the issue of jet wash forces on the mooring system was discussed extensively during the design phase, and that Hawaii Superferry had agreed to take operational measures to reduce the jet wash forces on the barge mooring system.

Those measures included shutting down two of the Alakai's four water jets while maneuvering at the Kahului pier.

Formby has said the DOT plans to install a sturdier permanent mooring system.

Reach Christie Wilson at cwilson@honoluluadvertiser.com.