Aloha, Superferry


POSTED: Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Hawaii Superferry's only ship left the islands yesterday for Alabama.

The high-speed interisland ferry company suspended service and laid off more than 200 employees earlier this month after a state Supreme Court ruling effectively shut down its operations.

The Alakai is expected to reach Mobile, Ala., the home of ship manufacturer Austal USA, in three weeks after it travels through the Panama Canal.

Hawaii Superferry said the move is designed to position the ferry for future use.

“;The ship has to be put to work,”; Hawaii Superferry said in a news release. “;Unfortunately, as a result of the Supreme Court decision, the company doesn't have a business opportunity in Hawaii for the foreseeable future.”;

The Alakai, which began service in 2007, was Hawaii's first passenger-vehicle transportation link between the major Hawaiian islands.

The vessel can fit up to 800 passengers and 200 vehicles. It traveled between Oahu and Maui daily.

In October, citing the poor economy, Hawaii Superferry suspended delivery of a planned second Austal ship intended to link Oahu and the Big Island.

Saturday's move responds to a March 16 state Supreme Court ruling that a state law allowing the company to operate while an environmental study was being conducted was unconstitutional.

Legislators crafted that law after the court ruled in 2007 the state would need to finish an environmental study before the ferry could begin service.

The work underlying the pending environmental assessment authorized by the overturned law will be used in a new, more comprehensive report, state Transportation Director Brennon Morioka has said.

That report could take as long as the end of the year to finish.

The state Transportation Department initially exempted the Superferry from an environmental review in February 2005. The state had spent $40 million for barges and ramps to accommodate it at four island harbors.

Environmentalists said they're worried the ferry would strike whales, increase traffic, and facilitate the movement of invasive species.