Friday, December 14, 2007

Less than smooth sailing - Superferry arrives in Maui

Less than smooth sailing - Superferry arrives in Maui


Fewer protesters than expected greet seasick passengers

by Nathan Eagle - THE GARDEN ISLAND

ALAKAI — After nearly four months delay due to legal battles and protests on Neighbor Islands, the state's first passenger-car ferry service fought the seas during a "re-launch" trip yesterday morning from O'ahu to Maui.

Instead of surfers clogging ports or judges granting restraining orders over environmental concerns, a headwind and 12-foot-plus waves rocked the 350-foot "Alakai" catamaran beyond the point of nausea.

Although the typical winter weather didn't present serious danger to some 230 passengers and crew members aboard the twin-hull ship, the discomfort was enough for some to "thank God" upon arrival at Kahului Harbor.

"It was torture," said O'ahu resident Nola Watasa, who was traveling to Maui with her son, Colby, and husband, Dave, for a varsity wrestling tournament. "I'm glad it's over."

She and others riding the $85 million jet-propelled vessel — such as Clayton Fernandez, an O'ahu resident visiting Maui for the first time — filled up the "barf bags" that Hawaii Superferry staff handed out early on in the three-hour voyage.

Workers scrubbed the carpet and wiped down the faux leather seats for those passengers who were unable to find a paper sack or make it to the bathroom in time.

Others green from suffering sea sickness found relief watching movies on the flat screen monitors or stretching out on sofas for some shut-eye.

Lori Abe, Hawaii Superferry spokeswoman, said the ride back from Maui to O'ahu went "much smoother."

At quarter capacity, the ship was extra spacious. The Alakai, and a sister ship under construction in Alabama for Big Island service starting in 2009, can ferry more than 800 passengers and 200 cars.

Hawaii Superferry CEO and President John Garibaldi called yesterday's load "moderate," noting its weekday return after "months of challenges."

Neither rough seas nor the upset stomachs stopped Garibaldi and customers from lauding the new ferry service or gasping at rainbows and surreal views of waterfalls cascading down cliffs on islands en route to Maui.

The Alakai left five minutes after its 6:30 a.m. scheduled departure from Honolulu without any hitches, Garibaldi said, adding that vehicle inspections proved efficient.

As a precautionary measure to protect endangered humpback whales, Capt. Craig Campbell routed the vessel around a known breeding ground this season.

A little over an hour into the trip, the Alakai cruised at around 40 mph passed the north side of Moloka'i before making a sweeping right turn for Maui.

The captain regularly updated passengers, mostly urging them to remain seated due to choppy waters.

Several surfers, at least one one-man outrigger canoe paddler, a handful of swimmers and a few dozen demonstrators on shore waving "EIS First" and anti-Superferry signs greeted the Alakai when it pulled into port at Kahului Harbor roughly 10 minutes ahead of its 10:15 a.m. arrival time.

Moments before docking, three Kaua'i activists hung a more than 200-square-foot banner off the side of the ship — drawing cheers from the protesters.

Painted on the sheet was the state motto, "Ua mau ke ea o ka 'aina i ka," followed by "pono?"

The trio said the message was questioning if Hawaii Superferry represents a just way for the state to uphold "the life of the land is perpetuated through righteousness."

Security personnel had the banner removed within a minute. The protesters, who paid the $29 one-way trip to demonstrate were Andrea Brower, 23, of Aliomanu; Katy Rose, 41, of Hanalei; and Hale Mawae, 24, of Anahola. The trio was respectful and thanked the officer for doing his job in a friendly and professional way.

The Kaua'i natives said they were "randomly selected" to be searched prior to boarding and were alarmed to see fully-armed U.S. Coast Guard on board.

"It highlights how our peaceful protests are treated as terrorist acts," Rose said.

Brower said they traveled to Maui to protest in solidarity.

Garibaldi said that while he believes 99 percent of the passengers were excited about the service, he respected the individuals' rights to express their opinions and peacefully protest.

"We're upholding our political officials to follow through with protecting the 'aina, the resources, the ocean and not protecting big business," Mawae said.

The three activists tied Hawaii Superferry to "the bigger picture," including the lives at stake in oil-rich war zones.

Roughly 200 to 300 demonstrators lined Maui streets in clusters, waving signs, sounding the conch and chanting slogans at people driving some of the 70 vehicles that disembarked.

Baldwin High School seniors Alena Ornellas and Kawehi Ku'ailani said they skipped class to protest because it was more important.

"We'll be here everyday until they get the big picture," Ku'ailani said. "I don't like the Superferry because it takes away from our land and our culture."

Kapa'a resident Richard Hoeppner, of 1,000 Friends of Kaua'i and other environmental affiliations, said he flew to Maui yesterday morning with a few other Kaua'i residents to help with the demonstration. He did not board the Alakai.

"We're all in this together," he said. "It's not just Kaua'i that's affected, it's every island in our great state."

Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies reported a safe transit of the Alakai.

The officials provided personnel to ensure safety in Kahului Harbor and enforce a security zone, including a floating orange line of demarcation from the harbor to a buoy. No incidents or arrests affiliated with the Alakai's transit were reported.

"We're pleased the Alakai was able to transit safely and securely into Kahului Harbor, and I thank our partner agencies for their cooperation and professionalism onshore and in the harbor," said Capt. Vince Atkins, Captain of the Port, Honolulu, in a prepared statement. "More importantly, I appreciate the cooperation and support of the citizens of Maui during the Alakai's transit to Kahului Harbor."

Maui Police Department personnel reported no major problems, incidents or major traffic issues at the harbor entrance of Kaahumanu and Puunene avenues. Kauai police also were in attendance as part of a training effort.

All of the demonstrators remained civil and no arrests were made, a unified command news release states.

"Today gave us an example of Maui's ability to deal with a contentious issue while remaining civil. This has been quite a challenge to our island and I'm grateful for everyone's efforts to comply with the law and respect our law enforcement personnel who had to deal with a difficult situation," said Mayor Charmaine Tavares. "I have faith and hope that our community will continue to conduct itself in a manner that best represents our island."

Hawaii Superferry service to Kaua'i remains temporarily suspended

State legislators in a special session Oct. 30 cut a legal cord that had tethered Hawaii Superferry to Honolulu Harbor's Pier 19 since late August, when protests and court rulings first halted the interisland service.

Gov. Linda Lingle later signed the bill into a law, known as Act 2. It allows the high-speed ferry to operate under some added restrictions while a comprehensive environmental impact statement is completed. It also creates an oversight task force and requires the state auditor to investigate how the Lingle administration made the exemption determination.

The Supreme Court on Aug. 23 unanimously decided that the state Transportation Department erred as a matter of law when it exempted Superferry from an environmental review. In accordance with the state's highest court, Maui Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza on Oct. 9 ruled in favor of three environmental groups by ordering Superferry to suspend service to Kahului Harbor until the assessment is completed.

Superferry officials had threatened to pull the $300 million project from the islands if forced to remain idle during an environmental assessment — a process that could take months or possibly years to complete.

The company's use of $40 million in taxpayer-funded, ferry-related harbor improvements triggered the state law requiring the review, which includes mitigating secondary impacts such as those related to traffic, culture and marine life.

Legislators, Superferry officials and citizens have been working together in recent weeks to heal communities split over the Superferry saga.

Contractors, students, businessmen, daytrippers and vacationers bought the discounted $29 tickets for the ride yesterday, the Hawaii Superferry president said.

"It's a good mix of local residents on the vessel," Garibaldi said.

Rocky Dunmire, operations director for the Extreme Volleyball Professionals national tour, said the boat was built for him.

He loaded a van with tents, futons, shirts, coolers, balls, a sound system, inflatables and more for the Corona Light EVP Pro Beach Hawaii Tour.

It cost Dunmire $174 to fly one-way from Kaua'i to Honolulu on Sunday with all his gear. It cost $188 round-trip with a van from O'ahu to Maui, he said.

"It's designed for me," he said, smiling. "I loaded a one-ton van with two tons worth of stuff in it."

• Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or