CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Passengers and crew disembarked from the Hawaii Superferry at Honolulu's Pier 19 yesterday after the Oahu-Kauai trip was cancelled.
Protesters and legal issues force the interisland vessel to scuttle voyages for the time being
STORY SUMMARY »
It's been anything but smooth sailing for the Hawaii Superferry, now idle and stuck at Pier 19 in Honolulu because of protests and legal challenges.
The interisland ferry canceled scheduled service indefinitely yesterday, pending a court decision on Maui this afternoon and the resolution of safety concerns caused by a blockade of Nawiliwili Harbor by protesters on surfboards and canoes.
Stranded passengers are being reimbursed for hotel costs, cab fare and airfare back to their home island.
Protesters are concerned about the impact of the Superferry on the neighbor island traffic and the environment. They also object to the possible use of the Superferry by the military.
John Garibaldi, Superferry's president and chief executive, said operations will not resume until safety is assured by the Coast Guard.
A Coast Guard officials said "the risk level was too high" for the protesters, Superferry and its passengers.
Gov. Linda Lingle yesterday asked the Superferry not to sail to Kauai because of safety concerns and defended her administration's decision not to require an environmental assessment.
Lingle said the Superferry situation is damaging Hawaii's image.
"It hurts our reputation as a place to do business and to be treated fairly," Lingle said. "In my opinion, the Superferry is not being treated fairly at this point because they followed all the rules."
On the horizon
Court Hearing: Attorneys for environmental groups, the state and the Hawaii Superferry are scheduled for arguments before Maui Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza at 1:30 p.m. today. The judge will determine whether a preliminary injunction should be issued ordering Superferry officials to cease operation until an environmental assessment is completed for Kahului Harbor, a process that could take months.
The Coast Guard is meeting with law enforcement officials to evaluate the response to the Nawiliwili Harbor protest and to come up with a plan to deal with future protests.
Hawaii Superferry officials say the company is monitoring the situation and has the financial resources to weather the current setbacks. "Our investors knew this is a major infrastructure investment in the state of Hawaii. These aren't inexpensive toys we have," said Hawaii Superferry President and Chief Executive Officer John Garibaldi.
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LEILA FUJIMORI / LFUJIMORI@STARBULLETIN.COM
After protesters prevented the Hawaii Superferry from landing on Kauai Monday night and forced it to return to Oahu, weary passengers arrived at Honolulu's Pier 19 at about 12:30 a.m. yesterday and tried to get a taxi. The docked Superferry can be seen in the background.
A trip on the Hawaii Superferry to Kauai was supposed to be a surprise birthday present for 7-year-old Isaac Yamashita of Waipahu.
His mother, Melissa Antonio, said Isaac was excited when she told him, "We're going to ride the ferry for your birthday. He was like, 'Oh, thank you, mom.'"
But Yamashita and the other passengers never left the dock yesterday. The Superferry canceled the trip when the Coast Guard could not guarantee safe passage for the 350-foot ferry in and out of Nawiliwili Harbor.
Antonio let Yamashita skip school yesterday, but he still got an unintended lesson in politics, protests and dealing with change.
About a dozen protesters greeted some passengers arriving at Pier 19 for yesterday's trip.
Police monitored the protest, but it was peaceful and went without incident, unlike Monday night's protest on Kauai, where a flotilla of about 65 surfers and canoe paddlers forced the Superferry to turn back to Honolulu.
Kauai police said 10 people -- seven adults and two juveniles -- were arrested over two nights of protests Sunday and Monday.
They face misdemeanor charges ranging from disorderly conduct, obstruction of government operations and criminal trespass. All were released on bail pending hearings on Oct. 2 and Oct. 9.
Kyle Kajioka, one of the protest organizers in Honolulu, said the state should drop charges against the protesters.
"It's the Superferry that's the illegal project," he said.
Jimmy Trujillo, spokesman for Hui-R, the organizers of the protests on Sunday and Monday on Kauai, was overjoyed when told the Superferry's trips were halted.
The organization, he said, is not against interisland travel by boat, but there are "pono ways to go about it," something he said Hawaii Superferry Inc. has not done.
"We will be able to support a Superferry when it is truly super," he said.
Last week, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that the state should have conducted an environmental assessment before building improvements to Kahului Harbor to accommodate the Superferry.
But Hawaii Superferry President John Garibaldi and Gov. Linda Lingle said it was unfair that the Superferry is being singled out when cruise ships, cargo carriers and other vessels have not been required to conduct environmental reviews.
"We've never required an environmental assessment on one vessel in our state's history," Lingle said. "To ask one company to be subject to that was simply not fair and the law didn't require it, as far as we were concerned."
Lingle said the high court's ruling "opens up all kinds of questions" for future state-funded improvements at ports, including at airports.
Many of the passengers turned back at the gate yesterday agreed.
"This is really a plus for the local people," said Mary Traynor of Hauula. "It's not like the cruise ships."
"That's so sad that they (protesters) are doing something like this," said disappointed passenger Alan Fernandez. "I ride motorcycles, so this (the Superferry) is a winner for me."
Superferry officials promised passengers a reimbursement of airfare, hotel, taxi and meals for passengers stranded by the shutdown of service.
They also offered free future trips when the service resumes.
Garibaldi didn't provide exact numbers on how many passengers and vehicles are stranded, estimating that about a couple dozen vehicles and very few passengers are left.
The vehicles will either be shipped back by ferry when service resumes or put on a barge, Garibaldi said.
Among the stranded passengers yesterday was Kauai resident Julie Harms, who came to Honolulu Sunday to take her 2-year-old daughter, Mikayla, to the zoo and to do some shopping.
She left her car at the pier and flew back to Kauai.
As a mother with a young child, "it's going to be hard to be without a vehicle," she said.
Most passengers, who only paid a $5 introductory fare for the voyage, seemed sympathetic to the company and satisfied with the way they were treated.
Among those left on land yesterday were a group of 18 neighbors from the Waipahu Towers Co-op, a low-income housing project.
They woke up early Saturday to book the special $5 introductory fares and had been looking forward to a cruise to Kauai.
"Many of us didn't eat breakfast and lunch, said Chuck Wheatley. "We were going to eat on the Superferry."
Company officials gave them and other passengers a tour of the vessel in port and they still made a day of it.
The Superferry called three cabs to take them back home. But some of the residents couldn't afford to pay the cab fare and waited for reimbursement.
Terry O'Halloran, the director of business development for the Superferry, stepped in.
At first, the company tried to arrange to have drivers from TheCab to charge the fare to the Superferry. But some drivers refused to accept vouchers.
O'Halloran finally took out his personal credit card and charged all three cabs.
One of the residents hugged O'Halloran and waved goodbye.
"Thank you," she said. "We'll be back."
The Associated Press and Star-Bulletin reporters Leila Fujimori and Tom Finnegan contributed to this report.
Help for passengers
» Passengers can call or e-mail the Hawaii Superferry to ask about refunds. The company has set up a special phone number, (808) 853-4175 and e-mail address: Customercare@HawaiiSuperferry.com. Customers on canceled voyages can get refunds though the company's Web site at www.hawaiisuperferry.com or the reservation center at 853-4175.
» Hawaii Superferry also will reimburse stranded passengers for "reasonable expenses," including one night of hotel stay, meals of up to $25 per day and transportation to lodging, the pier and the airport. Passengers should submit their name, address, phone number, e-mail address, booking number and receipts to:
Hawaii Superferry Inc.
One Waterfront Plaza
500 Ala Moana Blvd. Suite 300
Honolulu, HI 96813
» Also, go! Airlines is offering a special fare of $19.50 for stranded passengers. And Hawaiian Airlines has a special $19 fare for Superferry customers, with travel good through Oct. 31.
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Protesters in the water at Kauai's Nawiliwili Harbor kept the Superferry from landing Monday.
Coast Guard balances safety, security
Two of the Coast Guard's primary missions -- maritime safety and unimpeded ocean commerce -- clashed during the Superferry protests, with protesters in the water blocking the boat from the port.
Superferry officials and the state followed the Coast Guard recommendation to suspend service in and out of Nawiliwili Harbor on Kauai.
The suspension comes in the wake of Monday's protests in which dozens of people in the waters off Kauai forced the Superferry back to Honolulu after a three-hour standoff.
"The U.S. Coast Guard is committed to safety and security and enforces all applicable laws in the maritime environment," said Capt. Vince Atkins, the Coast Guard's port captain for Honolulu. "In this instance, the risk level was too high for the vessel, its passengers and for the protesters."
This was a first for the Hawaii sector, said Coast Guard spokesman Lt. John Titchen. However, the Coast Guard has faced similar incidents nationwide.
Coast Guard officials verbally warned the protesters and later detained several of them after they left the water. As part of the nation's homeland security force, Coast Guard law enforcement officials are required to use the minimum force necessary to compel compliance.
Should the situation escalate, the Coast Guard's use-of-force continuum allows them to use batons or deadly force if necessary, Titchen said.
"For the current situation, there was not a need to put people in harm's way. There was no need to risk injury or human life," Titchen said. "We don't ever want to escalate a situation. We were responding to a demonstration by American citizens, and we chose the safest route of action. It's very standard across the Coast Guard."
The Coast Guard's mission was a success in terms of keeping people safe, he said. There were no injuries.
"However, the Coast Guard also is charged with ensuring free transit of commerce," Titchen said.
Titchen said Atkins will meet with state harbor law enforcement officials throughout the week to see what could've been done to improve the response.
"The situation will be reviewed, and better operational plans will be developed," he said. "In a situation like this in a domestic port, it's a team-oriented effort."
Asked whether he was disappointed with the security provided by the Coast Guard and Kauai police, John Garibaldi, Superferry's president and chief executive, said no.
"We're continuing to work with everyone," he said. "This is a dynamic situation, so we'll just continue to monitor it and discuss situations with the Coast Guard."
He added, however, that such a ship blockade was "unprecedented."
"These small groups of people are really having an unusual impact and really denying people the opportunity and freedom to have choice," Garibaldi said.
The Coast Guard has evidence that some protesters violated the 100-yard security perimeter established to protect the Superferry vessel Alakai. The evidence will be forwarded to the U.S. Attorney's Office to see if federal charges are appropriate.
Atkins urged protesters to be mindful of their safety as well as the law.
"Safety and security is a shared responsibility, and I don't want anyone to underestimate the risks they undertake when they challenge the law," Atkins said.