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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 7, 2008

SUPERFERRY
Superferry awaits signal from Kauai

By Rob Perez
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Thomas Fargo

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The Superferry will raise its one-way fare between Honolulu and Maui to $49. Itís also adding a second roundtrip to Maui, four days a week.

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The Hawaii Superferry, which hasn't sailed to Kaua'i since harbor protesters blocked its arrival in August, intends to resume trips there only if the community signals it wants the service restored, the company's new chief executive said yesterday.

"We're going to do what is right for each community," said retired Navy Adm. Thomas Fargo, who took over Superferry's top job last week.

The Superferry also will raise its $39 one-way fare between Honolulu and Maui to $49 on June 6. Fargo, in a telephone interview with The Advertiser, said the price is still "hugely competitive."

Starting Friday, the Superferry will add a second roundtrip to Maui, four days a week, but it has no timeline for returning to Kaua'i, Fargo said.

If the Superferry were to get some kind of signal from the community, especially from leadership, that service is desired, the carrier would respond to the request, Fargo said.

Asked what would constitute a signal from the community, Fargo said: "There'll be a momentum or view by the community that they would like Superferry service." He added that he wasn't sure how that view would be communicated.

At least one Kaua'i politician suggested that the company is still unwelcomed by many people on that island.

Sen. Gary Hooser, D-7th (Kaua'i, Ni'ihau), said the percentage of Kaua'i residents opposed to the Superferry probably hasn't changed much and likely won't change much until the company shows it is reliable and forthright with the community.

"The Hawaii Superferry needs to prove itself in terms of reliability, service and community commitment first, and they haven't done that on Maui," Hooser said. "It's proven to be unreliable."

Hooser also said he was unaware of the Superferry doing any significant outreach to community groups on Kaua'i over the past few months, something that will be key to repairing relations and gaining support.

Lori Abe, a spokeswoman for the Superferry, said the company is continuing to talk with community members on Kaua'i.

The company got off to a shaky start last year, dealing with legal challenges, protests, stormy seas, canceled voyages and problems with its $85 million catamaran and docking facilities. Its first voyage to Kaua'i last August was greeted by protesters on surfboards and in kayaks who blocked the entrance to Nawiliwili Harbor.

SHAKEDOWN PERIOD ENDS

Fargo indicated that Superferry isn't profitable now, but he said he wasn't aware of any company that would be profitable at this early stage of its operations.

Asked if the recent change in management ó Fargo replaced John Garibaldi as president and chief executive ó was an indication that Superferry investors were unhappy with where the company was at this point, Fargo said the carrier had gone through an expected shakedown period and was now entering the operational phase, for which his expertise with complex maritime operations would be beneficial.

Garibaldi became vice chairman and remains as a board member.

Fargo said he would like to see the company ultimately attract a balance of cargo, passenger and vehicle business so it will become profitable.

He said the current trends are positive, with growth in passenger and vehicle traffic.

On the first weekend of his tenure, Fargo said, Superferry had 2,000 passengers on its Friday, Saturday and Sunday O'ahu-Maui trips, roughly double the previous weekend's count. He also said the company has seen an increase in business since Aloha Airlines closed its passenger service March 31 and more recently halted interisland cargo operations, forcing customers to temporarily seek alternative ways to move their products. Aloha's cargo service resumed after another company reached agreement to buy the business.

The turmoil in the interisland market hasn't altered Superferry's strategy.

"We're going to be a success by establishing a scheduled, reliable ferry service for residents, visitors and businesses in Hawai'i," Fargo said.

Reach Rob Perez at rperez@honoluluadvertiser.com.