The Hawaii Superferry.

Author:Gourdin, Kent N.

I have been watching with interest the trials and tribulations besetting the Hawaii Superferry as the company attempts to establish inter-island service between Oahu, Maui, and Kauai. Given that the only other option is to fly, the ability to move people and vehicles between the islands would seem like an idea whose time has come. Unfortunately, a lot of folks in Hawaii don't share that view.

At 349 feet in length, the $85 million vessel can carry 866 passengers and more than 200 cars and trucks on the three hour voyage between Honolulu and Maui or Kauai. The US-built Alakai (Hawaiian for "ocean path") is a double-hulled catamaran design, as is a second vessel planned for 2009, which will allow additional service to the big island of Hawaii. The intent was, and is, to transport residents, tourists, and freight on daily crossings utilizing comfortable, fuel-efficient vessels at a reasonable rate.

Unfortunately, the protests began long before the ferry arrived in Hawaii last summer. Environmentalists worried about the effect on migrating humpback whales and the potential for transporting invasive species, successfully arguing that the company needed to file an environmental impact statement before launching service. Though the state legislature stepped in to allow the ferry to operate while the review was being completed, local residents on Kauai and Maui protested that the ferry would bring more people, vehicles, and, ultimately, development to their islands that they did not want. In fact, protestors on surfboards and outrigger canoes initially blockaded Kauai's Nawiliwili harbor, preventing the ship from docking.

In addition, the service suffered from operational teething problems as well. Despite computer-controlled stabilizers and other features designed to smooth the ship's ride, service had to be suspended 11 days in less than two months due to rough winter seas. Another problem is that ridership has been significantly lower than initially projected perhaps due at least in part to the publicity surrounding the cancellations and the resultant disruption to travel plans faced by stranded passengers.

Certainly these kinds of "hiccups" affect every new venture, but transportation...

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