Facing a 100 percent jump in unemployment in a single month, Molokai residents are anxiously waiting for the arrival of a ferry service that could allow them to commute to new jobs on Maui.
unemployment eases when
Maui ferry starts
By Gary Kubota
The Molokai Princess was scheduled to begin operation in late January. But foul weather in the northwest delayed work on the 149-passenger vessel, said owner David Jung.
"There were days when there was ice on the boat. The worst it got, the more difficult it got," he said.
Jung, a West Maui resident, said the vessel is being painted in Honolulu and should be serving Molokai and Lahaina by mid-March.
He said the ferry is expected to take about an hour and 15 minutes to make the Molokai-Lahaina crossing and will be docking overnight at Kaunakakai.
Monday through Saturday, the first trip will leave Molokai at 6 a.m. and arrive in Lahaina at 7:15 a.m., followed by a departure at 5:15 p.m. at Lahaina and arrival in Kaunakakai at 6:30 p.m.
The regular fare will be $40 one way for adults and $20 for children. Rates for commuting workers will be $15 round trip Monday through Saturday.
Unemployment on Molokai jumped from 7.2 percent in December 2000 to 14.6 percent in January, following a shutdown at the Kaluakoi Hotel & Golf Club that laid off 99 employees Jan. 3.
Parent company Tokyo Kosan said it wanted to shut down the 140-room hotel and 18-hole golf course while it pursued the stalled talks with a buyer.
State employment official Alberta Napoleon-Lucas said many out-of-work residents are in limbo -- waiting either for a new hotel buyer at Kaluakoi or a new ferry service to work on Maui.
"A lot of people who want to work there have to rely upon the ferry to take them to and from work," she said.
Napoleon said about 150 to 175 people attended a job fair in January organized by state Sen. Jan Buen. She said state employment officials took the applications by residents and made available job listings on Maui.
Napoleon said she hopes in the future to have a job fair where employers come to Molokai.
Gov. Ben Cayetano, citing budgetary problems, ended the state subsidy of $330,000 for the Molokai-Lahaina ferry in 1997, making employment conditions difficult for commuters and reducing visitor tours for some businesses.
Jung said he doesn't want to see direct financial support to the ferry by the government again, because it can become an "easy target" whenever someone outside of Molokai wants to cut costs.
Jung said he's hoping elected officials will encourage different government agencies to implement programs to help workers pay for their transportation costs.
Molokai Council chairman Patrick Kawano said a number of young people have moved off Molokai to seek jobs in Las Vegas. "Pretty soon, the island's going to change to nothing but old people," he said. "I hope something happens."