Second Superferry ship postponed

Hawai‘i Superferry yesterday announced it is postponing the introduction of its second ship and the start of service to the Big Island for approximately one year due to what President and CEO Tom Fargo described as “the larger global and local economic climate.”

The company is still anticipating delivery of the second 836-passenger, 200-plus-vehicle catamaran in Mobile, Ala., from shipbuilder Austal USA in late February and will look at short-term opportunities for use of the ship prior to its induction into service in the islands, a news release states.

“We believe that our business plan is solid for the long run,” Fargo said in the statement released yesterday. “Serving the islands, including the Big Island and Kaua‘i, remains our goal and is very important to us.”

The Big Island’s distance of 132 nautical miles from O‘ahu — Fargo estimates that the ride from Honolulu to Kawaihae will take 4.5 hours each way and possibly as long as 12 hours round-trip, including turning the boat around — means that the second ship would have been totally devoted to that run.

The company will continue service between O‘ahu and Maui with its first ship, the 350-foot “Alakai,” beginning its truncated “winter schedule” — seven weekly round-trips between the islands — on Nov. 1. Fargo said he expected to ramp up to as many as 13 weekly round-trips after Easter, approaching the Alakai’s maximum capacity of two round-trips per day.

If and when Hawai‘i Superferry returns to Kaua‘i, the company will have to determine how many of those 14 Alakai runs will go to the Valley Isle and how many will go to the Garden Isle. Those proportions would be based, at least in part, on what the ridership is, Fargo said.

The economic conditions that led the company to postpone the introduction of its second ship would have little or no impact on a decision to return to Kaua‘i, he added.

“We don’t have the start-up costs in Kaua‘i (that we do on the Big Island),” Fargo said in a phone interview. “Everything we need to operate to Kaua‘i is already there, and the ship is already here, so there’s no impact.”

When asked to put a timeframe on a potential return to Kaua‘i, Fargo declined to name a specific date but pointed at the timeline “that is naturally in place.

“The draft (Environmental Impact Statement) will be done in January, is the latest date I saw,” he said. “Then it goes out for comment. By spring, we’ll have a solid year’s worth of successful operations to Maui. Good decisions will be made at that point in time.”

The Superferry has not been to Kaua‘i in more than a year. Protestors delayed its inaugural landing with paying passengers on Aug. 26, 2007. The next day, more than 60 surfers, swimmers, kayakers and outrigger canoe paddlers clogged Nawiliwili Harbor and prevented the boat from docking altogether despite a heavy local, state and federal law enforcement presence both in and out of the water.

On shore, more than 1,000 residents lined the narrow jetty road, many waving “Bury the Ferry” signs and shouting, “Go home.”

• Michael Levine, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or via e-mail at mlevine@kauaipubco.com

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