Columnist revisits Superferry in light of a new State ferry report
by Michael Hansen, Hawaii Shippers Council, Jan 17, 2018
The local online nonprofit news outlet specializing in public affairs reporting, Honolulu Civil Beat, published on January 11, 2018, a column, “Hawaii Superferry’s voyage of the damned,” written by their politics and opinion editor, Chad Blair.
The Hawaii Superferry was a highspeed “fast ferry” service operating aluminum hulled catamarans propelled with water jets. It began service in December 2007 with the ferry vessel ALAKAI and the service was terminated in July 2009 with the company filing for federal bankruptcy. A second vessel HUAKAI was constructed but not delivered and never entered service.
On January 9, 2018, the Hawaii State Governor’s office released a report, “Feasibility study of Interisland and intra-island ferry service,” produced by the Hawaii State Department of Transportation (HDOT), Harbors Division, dated December 2017. HDOT conducted the study in response to Act 196 of 2016 (stating the terms of reference for the study) and House Concurrent Resolution 47 of 2017 (regarding a subsidized Maui-Molokai ferry service). The feasibility study concludes, “In each area of analysis, the inter-island, intra-county, and intra-island ferry systems are infeasible” (Page 43).
Blair’s column largely describes his and others experiences getting seasick while riding Hawaii Superferry’s ALAKAI on a short introductory cruise along the protected Waianae Coast and between Honolulu and Kahului, Maui. As the subtitle of the column states, “A ferry system will likely never float in our islands because the waters are just too rough.” He notes, “The study does mention bad weather and rough sea conditions as potential challenges to sustaining a stable ferry system.”
One passenger’s comments Blair quotes notes: “Rounding the point heading toward Molokai, civilization fades and open ocean takes over. In the channel, the winds whip and the ocean buckles.” This is obviously a description of the passage from Kahului to Honolulu as the vessel entered the North end of the Pailolo Channel between the East Molokai and West Maui off Cape Halawa (Molokai).
The issue of adverse sea conditions negatively impacting interisland passenger service is not new, and did not begin with the Superferry.
Growing-up in 1950’s Hawaii, I remember many long-time residents telling about the miserable traveling conditions they experienced on ships of Inter-Island Steam Navigation Co. Limited. That company operated combination passenger-cargo steamships and provided virtually all the passenger and freight service between the islands from the 1890’s through the end of World War II. The old-timers invariably blamed the miserable travel conditions on the very rough sea conditions between the islands, and unanimously praised the development of interisland air transportation.
The Boeing Company and LTV Corp. launched SeaFlite, Inc. in 1975 operating three waterjet propelled Jetfoil 929-100 hyrdrofoils from Honolulu to Maalaea (Maui), Nawiliwili (Kauai) and Kailua-Kona (Hawaii) harbors. This fast ferry operation closed in 1979 due to the rough interisland sea conditions and related high maintenance costs. The three vessels were sold to Far East Hydrofoil to operate in the Hong Kong-Macao service on the inland waters of the Pearl River estuary.
The local columnist, Lee Cataluna, wrote in 2005 for the Honolulu Advertiser reminiscing about SeaFlite: “So what can be learned by this? What sort of summary can be made of this case study? SeaFlite enjoyed public good will and a big dose of media fawning. Local people took their ginger and their Dramamine and rode. Tourists took a chance. But it wasn't because we weren't riding the thing. We rode. We barfed, but we rode.”
The Hawaii Shippers’ Council (HSC) submitted testimony in reference to Senate Bill No. 2618 of 2016 (which was enacted and became Act 196) recommending against considering a ferry service to Kahului and in favor of a conventional displacement hull ferry vessel due to rough sea conditions in island waters. The Legislators and the HDOT staff who produced the report ignored both items.
In contrast, Blair did refer to our testimony:
One intriguing solution surfaces in the testimony to the Senate resolution. It was from Mike Hansen, president of the Hawaii Shippers’ Council. He suggested that a better operating model for Hawaii might be what operates in the Tasman Strait in Australia.
“We believe the best prospects for introducing a successful Hawaii interisland ferry would be using a conventional displacement hull ferry of the kind that commonly operate throughout Europe,” Hansen wrote in testimony. “This kind of vessel would be far more economical to acquire and operate than the high speed aluminum hulled catamaran ferry vessels of the Hawaii Superferry, and should have better sea-keeping characteristics.”
CB: More On Why The Hawaii Superferry Flopped