A pleasant sail ended in fear as protesters unleashed fury on passengers
Editor's note: Gov. Linda Lingle announced Wednesday that extensive security measures have been completed so that the Superferry can travel to Kauai again on Sept. 26. Protesters have said they again plan to block the ship from entering the harbor.
My husband and I looked forward to our trip on the Hawaii Superferry's inaugural voyage to Kauai on Sunday, Aug. 26. Once on board, we experienced smooth sailing, spectacular views, a large school of spinner dolphins, a rain shower complete with a rainbow, and a boat full of committed and efficient employees. Perfect. That is, until we reached Nawiliwili Harbor and a pier full of shouting, angry protesters.
We could not hear them but we sure could see their hand gestures (quite graphic) and read their words of hatred, which were directed not only at the Superferry but also at its riders. We were subjected to about two hours of forward and reverse movements trying to enter the harbor until finally the Superferry was able to maneuver around the surfers who were blocking access. Once ashore, we were told to wait on the dock. In the distance we could hear and see the protesters.
After another hour of waiting on the dock behind a gate, I began to wonder who was protecting our right to freedom of movement without threats or intimidation and realized there was no one there for us. The Superferry people did as much as they could, including sending one of their employees out to the protest line (his car was shown on TV being attacked). There were elderly people who needed to get off the dock, as it was quite humid, and babies that needed to be tended to. I overheard one man offering another man formula for his baby, as he had extra. Everyone was out of their cars and waiting for word of when it would be safe to leave when all of a sudden we began to hear yelling behind us as some of the protesters had circled around to the back, where many of the riders were standing.
They began to swear at us, shouting, "Go home, we don't want you here," "Was the five dollars worth it?" and, once the ferry left, "Where's your boat now?"
We remained silent for the most part, as we felt like sitting ducks, not being able to leave in any direction. The taunting and insults went on for at least another hour. Eventually we were led out of another gate but only after being instructed by the Kauai officers to turn off our headlights and not to engage any protesters who might be out there. This darkened street was lined with police officers (I felt like I was on a mission in some Third World country; the only thing I was armed with, however, was my trusty camcorder).
Eventually the protesters learned that we were sneaking out the side gate, and they began to congregate on the streets, yelling but not getting in the way of the cars (and it's a good thing, too, because I think by that point there were many who felt like running them over). The protesters were supposedly taking down our license numbers. I don't know why, except maybe to intimidate us further.
We headed for the area where my husband works five days a week, and passed the "Aloha, Welcome to Kauai" sign.
My husband and I also were at the pier for the second arrival of the Superferry the next night, which seemed even worse than the night before. Lined up and ready to board the ferry again, the passengers were now just on the other side of the protesters, separated by only a thin fence. The protesters once again began showing us their signs of hatred. One ferry rider, who had an infant in his car, approached the gate and asked one of the protesters why they were not letting us leave when it was clear they didn't want us there. He was told to shut up and step away from the fence by a Kauai police officer. The protester was allowed to continue ranting.
In the meantime, we were treated to the haunting sound of the slow, rhythmic pounding of some sort of drum. The rhythm of the drum became louder and faster whenever the Superferry was pushed back by the protesters in the water. I had the feeling we were about to be roasted, with all the swearing and insults spewing from the angry mob on the pier. Not feeling the least bit safe this close to the protesters (despite a large number of police officers milling about, some with dogs), my husband and I left, vowing to try again the next day. By then all we wanted to do was leave Kauai with our cars, and we were denied once again.
I don't have a beef with people exercising their right to a peaceful protest for whatever they believe in. I do, however, have a problem when my rights become nonexistent as a direct result of those who choose to break the law. Should the protesters have been allowed to hold hostage the ferry riders, who included the elderly and babies? Should they have been allowed to make us wait for hours at sea or locked up in a fenced area? Should the protesters have been allowed to pound on cars and let the air out of their tires? NO, NO and NO, period. If this were to happen anywhere else, I believe action would have been quick and decisive.
I was once a proud supporter of Greenpeace and I respect anyone's right to protest, but not when my liberties and freedoms are trampled upon.
While we were still stuck on Kauai, I heard Kauai Rep. Hermina Morita say on TV that she would be looking into the government going after "our peaceful protesters." I don't know what pier she was standing on but it certainly could not have been on the same pier where the Superferry site is located. How Morita could say this was a peaceful demonstration, even after the protesters had thrown rocks at Superferry riders, is beyond me.
On that Monday night, after deciding to leave the Superferry site, we located ourselves further down the pier, well away from the protesters, where there appeared to be at least another 100 or so onlookers, mostly residents of Kauai. While standing there we overheard two local boys in their mid-twenties talking about the surfers and how it was they who were "stupid." One of them said, "I know how to get the surfers and everyone else out of the water fast." His friend asked how, and he said, "Chum the water!"
During our stay on Kauai, our travels around the island brought support and concern from most residents. Not one person we spoke to supported the demonstrators' tactics. Many thanks to those people who expressed the true Hawaiian spirit. We would also like to thank the folks at the Superferry for their support and guidance in a difficult situation. We were not abandoned by them, as we feel our government has done to us.
Finally, to the surfers, canoe clubs and those on kayaks, you might have turned the ferry around that night but not because she feared you, but because Superferry officials feared for your safety. No, the Alakai left under the guiding light of a full moon, not limping but proud, as the right thing was done, the only thing that could have been done given your disregard for your lives and that of your brothers, uncles, friends, sons, sisters, daughters and fathers. To the parents who encouraged their children and young adults into the water (yes, we heard you), shame on you for placing them in unsafe territory. Thank the heavens (and the Superferry captain and crew) that your loved ones were not injured or killed that night.
I believe and hope the Superferry will sail again. My family and many friends will be regular riders. But we will never forget Aug. 26 and 27, two very sad days in Hawaii when a handful of people on Kauai were allowed to terrorize fellow islanders who wanted only to enjoy, not steal from or degrade, their special island.
Dianne Pana is a social worker who lives in Pearl City.