Former Hawaii Superferry joins relief mission in Haiti


POSTED: Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Alakai, the former Hawaii Superferry ship that briefly plied isle waters, has been enlisted to join the Haitian relief effort, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced yesterday.

Under the control of the Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration, the Alakai will join a six-ship relief armada that also includes the M/V Huakai, which never fulfilled its purpose as the second Hawaii Superferry ship.

The Maritime Administration has started preparing the Alakai for the relief duty, and it will be crewed by U.S. civilian mariners, officials said.

“;This ship will help our relief workers on the ground by allowing quick movements of people in and out of Haiti from various staging points,”; said LaHood “;It is another example of why our country's merchant marine is so important.”;

The Alakai and the Huakai are high-speed passenger and vehicle ferries, originally built by Austal USA in Mobile, Ala., for service in Hawaii. The catamaran-hulled ships can each carry up to 866 passengers and relief cargo, at a top speed of nearly 40 knots.

The ships were obtained by the Maritime Administration after Hawaii Superferry filed for bankruptcy in May.

They are now based at Norfolk, Va.

The Hawaii Superferry, which aimed to provide interisland ferry services in the state, suspended service of the Alakai and laid off more than 200 employees in March due to a state Supreme Court ruling that effectively shut down its operations.

The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy two months later and abandoned the ships to lenders. The Maritime Administration was owed more than $135.7 million.

Only the Alakai had a brief run between Oahu and Maui.

The Huakai never made it to Hawaii. It has been undergoing preparations in Norfolk since late last week for its mission to Haiti.

The Alakai and Huakai join four other Maritime Administration ships activated over the past week: the Gopher State and the Cornhusker State, based in Newport News, Va.; Cape May from Norfolk; and Petersburg from Alameda, Calif.