August 28, 2007
Hawaii Superferry suspends operations
The Hawaii Superferry on Tuesday suspended operations at the request of Hawaii's Governor Linda Lingle, who cited worries about public safety.
Superferry officials said the Coast Guard, contrary to previous assurances, can no longer guarantee a safe passage for its 350-foot vessel and passengers in and out of Nawiliwili Harbor on Kauai, where environmental protesters in the water blocked it's docking late Monday.
A temporary restraining order sought by opponents had already halted service to Maui, with a hearing set for Wednesday.
The company had said it would continue operations to Kauai, but the Superferry had to turn back, without docking, on Monday after about 65 swimmers, surfboarders and kayakers entered the water and obstructed passage of the vessel. Eleven were subsequently arrested.
The Coast Guard appeared unable to prevent the protest, without endangering the safety of the protesters.
A Coast Guard statement said Captain Vince Atkins, U.S.C,G, Captain of the Port, Honolulu, had made a recommendation that operations to and from Nailiwili be suspended.
"Based on our current assessment of the situation in Nawiliwili, we made a recommendation to the state that it would not have been a safe transit into the harbor," said Atkins of Tuesday afternoon's state decision to cancel the Superferry's trip to Nawiliwili.
"The U.S. Coast Guard is committed to safety and security and enforces all applicable laws in the maritime environment. In this instance, the risk level was too high for the vessel, its passengers and for the protestors."
The U.S. Coast Guard will continue to work with state officials and law enforcement agencies on the safest course of action for the Superferry's inter-island transits. Atkins urged protestors to be mindful of their safety and their obligation to obey the law.
"These surfers, swimmers, and other protestors in the water place themselves and the ferry in danger when they disregard the law," said Atkins. "Coast Guard use of force requires the minimum force necessary to compel compliance along a continuum of force. We have used the minimum force necessary to ensure safety to this point. Safety and security is a shared responsibility, and I don't want anyone to underestimate the risks they undertake when they challenge the law."
The Austal USA built Superferry Alakai was stalled outside Nawiliwili Harbor on Monday for some three hours as Coast Guard vessels, including an 85-foot cutter, failed to clear a way for the ship.
Monday's temporary restraining order barring the ferry from Kahului Harbor on Maui was sought by three environmentalist organizations who want to prevent the Superferry from using the harbor until an environmental assessment is conducted. The order does not affect ports on Oahu or Kauai.
The court move came after the state Supreme Court ruled last week that the state should have required an environmental assessment before the ferry service began. As the Supreme Court did not explicitly say the ferry should not operate, state officials allowed the service to start.
Press reports quote Governor Lingle --a strong Superferry supporter--as saying it was unfair for the Superferry to be singled out when cruise ships, cargo carriers and other vessels have not been required to conduct environmental reviews.
"We've never required an environmental assessment on one vessel in our state's history," said Lingle.
You can see a Youtube video of the in-water protests HERE.