Ferry flap nixes trip to remove sea debris
The Coast Guard cancels a cleanup voyage due to the Alakai security issue
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Concerns over Superferry security prompted the Coast Guard to cancel a debris-collecting voyage to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
That means that the Superferry, idled over its possible environmental impact, has indirectly had an impact on the environment without moving an inch.
The Coast Guard cutter Kukui had planned a monthlong voyage to the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument late last month when the mission was canceled because of surfers' protests outside Nawiliwili Harbor, Kauai, that ultimately blocked the new interisland vessel. The Kukui had been expected to collect some 10 tons of plastic, netting and other debris that poses a threat to turtles, dolphins, whales and endangered monk seals.
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Tons of sea-life-killing marine debris will go uncollected in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands this year because a Coast Guard voyage has been canceled due to Superferry security concerns.
The Superferry has been idled as a result of protests and court challenges over its potential environmental impact.
The canceled debris-collection voyage means the Superferry has exacted an indirect environmental toll even as it remains tied pierside.
The cutter Kukui had been preparing for a monthlong voyage to the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in late August when the mission was canceled.
Coast Guard Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O'Hara's cancellation of the trip was an "operational decision" that included the possibility the cutter would be needed to help provide security for the Superferry, Coast Guard spokesman Lt. John Titchen confirmed last week.
The Coast Guard has assisted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on marine debris removal trips to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in past years. However, "The partnership operation plan with them is based on their availability," said Seema Balwani, NOAA lead principal investigator for the marine debris removal program.
"We understand they have homeland security and state support missions," Balwani said.
On Aug. 26, protesters on surfboards outside Nawiliwili Harbor delayed the first arrival of the Superferry, and on Aug. 27, blocked it.
The Superferry had intended to resume voyages to Kauai this week, but the company announced Friday an indefinite suspension of its Kauai service pending the outcome of court cases that focus on potential environmental impacts. A judge on Maui has been hearing arguments for almost two weeks on whether the ferry Alakai should be allowed to resume serving that island while an environmental assessment is conducted.
With the Superferry idled, the Kukui, a 225-foot buoy tender, has been maintaining aids to navigation around Oahu, Titchen said.
The Kukui's voyage to Maro Reef had been expected to collect up to 10 tons of marine debris, Balwani said.
Marine debris can trap and drown or choke Hawaiian monk seals, sea turtles, whales and dolphins.
Monk seals are critically endangered, with an estimated 1,200 animals in the wild, most living in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands protected by the national monument.
The NOAA ship Oscar E. Sette collected 24 tons of marine debris on a July-August trip to the Northwestern Islands, Balwani said. The ship is currently on a second marine debris trip and will make a final trip this year Oct. 11-Nov. 7.