Legislation gives big boost to Norwegian’s interisland cruises

The odds got much better that a cruise ship making regular stops at Nawiliwili Harbor may overnight on the island.

And that is good news for the island’s visitor industry, said Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kaua’i Visitors Bureau and chair of the Kaua’i Cruise Ship Committee.

Norwegian Cruise Line received the green light Friday to fly the stars and stripes over one of its nine existing cruise ships, and two under-construction vessels designed for interisland cruising in Hawaiian waters.

That means those American-flagged vessels won’t have to make the day-long trip to Fanning Island in Kiribati in order to meet federal cruise-ship legislation requiring foreign-flagged cruise ships to call on an international port between U.S. stops.

And that means there is a much greater chance that at least one of the ships will alter itineraries in order to overnight on a Neighbor Island, with Kanoho’s hope the island is Kaua’i.

“They (NCL) can just focus on the interisland, and that’s a great opportunity for us,” said Kanoho. The NCL moves more than replace the two American Hawai’i Cruises ships that used to call weekly on Nawiliwili.

“It may encourage more people to book NCL, based on the fact that they don’t have to go down to Fanning anymore,” she said.

“I think it’s all positive. We feel that this is going to be a long-term commitment that they’ve made,” said Kanoho.

President Bush approved the Omnibus Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2003, which includes a provision allowing NCL to re-flag as American one of its nine existing vessels, and two, under-construction craft.

A recent study indicates the move could create up to 10,000 new jobs in Hawai’i, and generate over $800 million in economic benefits to the state.

No decisions have been made about which existing NCL ship, if any, will be re-flagged, a move that would mandate a total crew of U.S. citizens, said Steve Hirano of Honolulu-based Pacific Management Consultants, Inc., the Hawai’i spokesman for NCL.

Now, with international flags, the NCL ships have international crews, Hirano said.

“What the new law does is allow Norwegian Cruise Line to take these two ships, that are being built right now, (and) they will be become American-flagged ships, and they’ll be able to cruise Hawai’i only,” without having to call on any international port, Hirano explained.

The law also allows NCL to re-flag one of its existing nine cruise ships under U.S. colors, allowing it also to cruise in and out of American ports without having to call on international destinations in between, he said.

It has not yet been determined which existing ship will be re-flagged, but that ship also must be re-crewed, with nothing but American citizens working aboard, under provisions of the new law, he said.

“It just means that there will be three U.S.-flagged ships that can sail in Hawai’i” without having to go to Fanning, Hirano said. Until further notice, the two ships regularly calling on Nawiliwili will continue calling on Fanning, he added.

Currently, the Norwegian Star calls on Nawiliwili each Saturday morning, carrying up to 2,000 passengers and around 1,000 crew members. It is part of a seven-day cruise that includes stops at Fanning, Honolulu, Hilo on the Big Island, and Kahului, Maui.

Cruise-ship arrivals provide instant boosts for the local economy, with shore activities, shopping and activities shuttles, car-rental companies, taxis, malls, local shops big and small, and other commercial entities all enjoying brisk activity on “boat days.”

The sister ship, Norwegian Wind, carrying fewer passengers and crew, calls regularly on Nawiliwili when it is in Hawaiian waters conducting 11-day interisland cruises.

The cruise-ship provision in the new law was backed by U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawai’i.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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