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Hawaii cargo shipping firm seeks $25M from state virus funds

HONOLULU — A Hawaii ocean shipping firm requested $25 million in federal coronavirus relief funds from the state to keep the company operating.

Young Brothers LLC, Hawaii’s only regulated interisland cargo company, appealed to the state Tuesday for the money to prevent the 120-year-old company from ceasing operations.

Young Brothers President Jay Ana described the company’s financial situation as “extremely dire” in a letter to the Public Utilities Commission, Democratic Gov. David Ige, legislative leaders, four county mayors, and several state agency executives.

The request will be considered as part of the state’s “recovery and resiliency efforts” resulting from the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Ige said in a statement.

The firm’s parent company, Seattle-based Saltchuk Resources Inc., will stop putting cash into Young Brothers to cover operating shortfalls beyond May 31 after covering losses for the last two years, Ana said.

The $25 million in relief funds would sustain the firm through December, Ana said.

“Young Brothers expects that, absent immediate relief from the state, it will soon be unable to pay its expenses or continue operations,” Ana said in the letter.

Ana did not detail a possible shutdown timetable for the company, which employs 370 people statewide and has served Hawaii since 1900.

“I and my colleagues would be heartbroken if Young Brothers were forced to stop operating,” Ana said. “We want to keep going and we’re confident we can weather this crisis, but we can only do it with help and support from the state and the commission.”

A disruption to Young Brothers’ service would likely impact island economies, especially smaller ones such as Molokai and Lanai that depend on the company’s tug-and-barge service.

“This is our lifeline for the neighbor islands,” Maui County Mayor Mike Victorino said. “It is so important to keep Young Brothers viable.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

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