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Thursday, December 7, 2000

Arrival of
cruise ship marks
start of an era

Bullet The issue: The liner Patriot arrived today to begin cruising to Hawaii's islands.
Bullet Our view: Hawaii cruising is about to undergo a major expansion.

A new era in Hawaii cruising began today with the arrival of the 1,212-passenger liner Patriot. The ship, recently acquired by American Classic Voyages Inc., marks the start of a $1.4 billion expansion in the interisland cruise business.

Formerly the Nieuw Amsterdam of Holland America Line, the ship was purchased for $114 million and underwent a $21 million refurbishing before being placed in service here. The ship will begin the first of its seven-night cruises Saturday.

But that's only the beginning of the story. American Classic Voyages was permitted to buy the vessel and put it into service here under an exemption from federal law because it is building two cruise liners in the United States for introduction into service here. Under normal circumstances operating a foreign-built ship between American ports would be illegal.

Those ships, each carrying up to 1,900 passengers, are scheduled to be delivered in early 2003 and 2004. Weighing 72,000 tons, they will be the largest passenger ships built in the United States and the first American cruise ships built since the 1950s.

Meanwhile the company has transferred its older ship, the Independence, from Honolulu to Kahului, Maui, from where it continues to make cruises through the Hawaiian islands. With all its plans, American Classic Voyages will create a major expansion in cruise ship activity here.

And it won't be alone for long. Norwegian Cruise Line expects to take delivery of the SuperStar Leo, a 1,960-passenger liner, in December 2001 and begin its first interisland voyage from Honolulu on Dec. 16.

The SuperStar Leo's cruises will include a stop at Fanning Island in the Republic of Kiribati, 1,200 miles south of Honolulu. This is necessary for compliance with the law that does not permit foreign vessels to carry passengers to U.S. ports unless they are connecting with a foreign port.

When the Superstar Leo begins operations, it will introduce direct competition in the Hawaii cruise business, although Norwegian Cruise Line already operates interisland cruises out of Vancouver, B.C.

All of this adds up to a major expansion of cruising in Hawaii in addition to a considerable increase in the number of calls in Honolulu by foreign cruise ships. Hawaii is coming into its own as a cruising attraction.

Tokyo cabinet
shuffle may help
Mori survive

Bullet The issue: Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori of Japan has reshuffled his cabinet in an attempt to attract more support.
Bullet Our view: Mori's lack of popularity reflects his weak leadership of a nation that can no longer afford mediocrity at the head of government.

THE nation with the largest economy in Asia continues to limp along with a leader whose popular approval ratings are abysmally low.

With his latest cabinet reshuffle, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori may have improved his chances of surviving in office until the parliamentary elections scheduled for next July.

But there is speculation that Mori may resign as early as March if his support ratings do not improve from the current 20 percent level. A survey recently showed the former Mori cabinet had public support ratings of only 18.2 percent and disapproval ratings as high as 75 percent.

Mori sought to stabilize his position and freshen up his image by including heavyweight lawmakers in his new cabinet, announced Tuesday. These included former prime ministers Kiichi Miyazawa and Ryutaro Hashimoto.

The appointment of Hashimoto ensures good relations with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's largest and most influential faction, which Hashimoto heads. However, there is no assurance that Mori's tactics will improve his public standing. If the ratings do not recover and Mori step downs voluntarily, a new prime minister could be chosen after the fiscal 2001 regular budget is passed in parliament in March.

The prime minister survived a scare over a no-confidence vote last month when a revolt within the LDP fizzled. Party rebel Koichi Kato, who had called publicly for change at the top of the power structure, backed down under intense pressure.

Kato's faction absented itself from the no-confidence debate, thereby ensuring that the motion to depose Mori would fail. But the threat was a symptom of Mori's vulnerability.

The government is slated to announce the economic growth rate for fiscal 2000 in June, one month before the election, and voters will be watching closely whether the government's 1.5 percent growth target is reached. The economy grew at an annual rate of only 1 percent in the first half of the fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.

Mori, who had been chief cabinet secretary, became prime minister last April when Keizo Obuchi suffered a fatal stroke. Since then he has committed a series of verbal gaffes that have created an image of incompetence and contributed to his poor opinion poll ratings.

Japan, of course, is by no means the only East Asian country with weak leadership. It shares that dubious distinction with China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia. Decades of strong economic growth have given Japan the luxury of getting by with weak leaders but the economic sluggishness of recent years suggests that something more than timid mediocrity is needed at the helm.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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