FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Superferry master Adam Parsons, at a bridge wing control station, talked yesterday about the ship's operations.
Suits lash Alakai but crew stands ready
STORY SUMMARY »
Many of the 300 Hawaii Superferry employees say the high-speed interisland service is needed although protests and legal clouds still hang over it.
They are not yet worried about losing their jobs due to court controversies, and have been working on the Alakai before its scheduled sail next week to Kauai.
TOM FINNEGAN / STAR-BULLETIN
The Aug. 27 photo shows protesters blocking the Superferry at Kauai's Nawiliwili Harbor.
Yesterday a Hilo-based lawyer filed a federal lawsuit challenging a Coast Guard emergency rule that creates a security zone for the Superferry in Kauai's Nawiliwili Harbor.
That comes in addition to a preliminary injunction request pending in Kauai Circuit Court and a Maui court hearing by a judge trying to determine whether the vessel will be allowed to operate while an environmental assessment is done.
FULL STORY »
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Superferry workers have continued to be on the job doing maintenance and training while awaiting the resumption of regular service. Maintenance man Carlos Ramos washed windows yesterday, among other duties.
Jesse Winterbottom, 24, deck officer of the Alakai, stands at the stern of the sidelined Hawaii Superferry, saying he is worried not about whether he will have a job, but whether he "can make it to work on time" as the sleep-craving father of a newborn.
For the 300 employees of the Hawaii Superferry, concern about the ferry's future has been eclipsed by day-to-day tasks, even though the ship has not sailed in regular service since Aug. 28 and has not carried a passenger since Sept. 8, when it returned stranded vehicles.
For now the Alakai rests at Pier 19 in Honolulu Harbor, serving as a workplace for four shifts of ferry crews.
"This is the cleanest ship ever," said Erin Nakaya, a purser, in charge of passenger service.
"I have the crew come on and clean and fine-tune," said the 24-year-old former employee of the Star of Honolulu and Norwegian Cruise Line. "We have looked in every nook and cranny. They are all working their regular shifts and scheduled rotation."
Crew members are watching movies, doing emergency drills and figuring out ways to make the ship sparkle.
Carlos Ramos, 41, an able-bodied seaman, said he washes windows along the 350-foot ship twice a day. Time also is spent with last-minute painting and varnishing.
"We are all pretty much just waiting for it to start," said Ramos, a former NCL worker. "We are all very concerned about it."
The ship halted service to Maui after the state Supreme Court ruled that the state had not prepared environmental studies regarding the effect of the ship on marine life and the neighbor islands. Angry protests on Kauai then blocked service to Nawiliwili harbor.
The ship is set to resume Kauai service on Wednesday, and Gov. Linda Lingle is expected to hold a meeting with Kauai residents tonight to discuss the ferry service. And, legislators and Lingle are waiting for a decision on a restraining order to see whether a special legislative session is needed to give the Superferry an exemption to resume service while an environmental assessment is done.
Ferry management has kept on the 300 employees, including 33 on Kauai and 37 on Maui. But officials have warned that the ship cannot continue to operate without passengers and that a multimonth delay could force it out of business.
Adam Parsons, one of two masters or captains of the ship, talked of the Alakai as if the 44,000-horsepower vessel were a racing thoroughbred.
"We've taken her out a couple of times to exercise it," Parsons said.
His crew also is doing safety training and making adjustments to the highly computerized ship.
"We are also getting things physically installed, putting the hooks and shelves where you need them," said Parsons, a 27-year Merchant Marine veteran.
Still, there is concern about the future of the ferry service.
Sean Horie, 24, who just graduated from the University of Hawaii, said the public sometimes is skeptical of new ways of doing things.
"We are a new business, but we are an island state and we are disconnected by water," said Horie, assistant marketing manager. "I was born and raised on Oahu, and I grew up on the west side and everyone I talk to is supportive of the Superferry."
Critics of the ferry say that because it travels so fast, 38 knots, it could hit whales -- or bring invasive species to fragile neighbor island environments.
Nakaya, the purser, said she doubts it.
"I can understand the concerns and I wouldn't be working on the ship if I didn't think it was safe or good for Hawaii," Nakaya said. "There really is a silent majority that wants this."
Winterbottom, the deck officer, who grew up working on tugboats in Hawaii and just graduated from the California Maritime Academy, part of California's state university system, added, "I think this is an asset."
BACK TO TOP
General highlights ship’s utility in disasters
WAILUKU » The second in command of the Hawaii National Guard amplified yesterday the potential uses of the Hawaii Superferry during natural disasters and other emergencies.
Brig. Gen. Gary Ishikawa, deputy adjutant general, said the Superferry vessel Alakai could accommodate a large unit of vehicles, troops and equipment together, rather than transporting them in increments through barges and helicopters.
"I can roll right off the ship and start operations immediately," Ishikawa said.
Ishikawa testified during a hearing before Maui Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza, who is to determine whether the Superferry may operate at Kahului Harbor while completing an assessment of its environmental impact.
Cardoza declared last month that an environmental assessment was required for the Superferry at Kahului Harbor and has ordered a halt in operations pending the outcome of the court hearing.
The hearing resumes today and seems likely to extend into the middle of next week, observers said.
Ishikawa said he would like to see the Superferry operate while preparing its environmental assessment. As deputy adjutant general, he is the No. 2 officer in the state Department of Defense, which includes state Civil Defense and the Hawaii Army and Air National Guards.
Under cross-examination, Ishikawa said he has never had to transport 600 to 700 troops and 200 vehicles in one move in responding to disasters, including Hurricane Iniki in 1992, but was worried about future disasters.
Warren Watanabe, president of the Maui Farm Bureau, said the Superferry provided his members with an alternate way of transporting their produce to the main market on Oahu.
Watanabe said the cargo could move daily, instead of twice a week by Young Bros. barge.
He said the Superferry could allow closer monitoring of deliveries and direct marketing.
Oahu resident Steve Gilbert testified that as a person who has a weak physical condition and sometimes requires oxygen from a canister, he found using the Superferry was easier than boarding an airplane or shipping his motorcycle on a barge.
He said he did not have to carry luggage and walk as far as he would have to board an airplane, and he did not have to empty his motorcycle tanks and put it in a crate as he would have if he had shipped his motorcycle on a barge.
Gilbert said he was able to put the oxygen container on his motorcycle Aug. 26 during the Superferry's maiden voyage to Maui.
"The Superferry worked extremely well for me," he said.
BACK TO TOP
Lawsuit against boat’s security zone names Bush
A Hilo-based lawyer filed a federal lawsuit yesterday challenging a Coast Guard emergency rule that creates a security zone in Kauai's Nawiliwili Harbor and prevents protesters from blocking the Hawaii Superferry from docking.
Attorney Lanny Sinkin said the emergency rule failed to include the effective dates, which makes the law ineffective, and furthermore uses laws meant for protection from terrorist attacks to quell civil disobedience and protests.
Sinkin, who has sued in the past to protect whales from sonar, is representing 22 plaintiffs from Kauai, the Big Island and the mainland. The lawsuit names as defendants President Bush, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and the commandant and district commander of the Coast Guard.
On Aug. 27, protesters blocked the Superferry from docking at Nawiliwili Harbor, and the Coast Guard responded with a new law expanding a 100-yard security zone around the ferry to include the waters of Nawiliwili Harbor and the Nawiliwili jetty.
Sinkin filed a motion for a temporary restraining order to knock out the security zone and hopes that will stop the Superferry's planned Wednesday trip to Nawiliwili. He said state law requires an environmental assessment.
If the Coast Guard activates the security zone on Wednesday, "they'll be activating something that doesn't exist," Sinkin said. "They'll be acting outside the law."
The effective dates, Sept. 1 to Oct. 31, are in the summary but not written in the law because of a "clerical error," Sinkin said. He is waiting for a hearing date.
The Coast Guard defended its expanded security zone, saying the rule was written reasonably and accurately.