Super Ferry Stand Off

posted by / News / August 30, 2007

Situation critical. The Hawaii Superferry, Alakai, running between the islands of Oahu and neighboring Kauai, was successfully put to a halt by protesters earlier this week.

On Sunday, the ferry, while attempting it’s maiden voyage between the two islands, was met head on by a pack of surfers who put their lives on the line when they by paddled to the entrance of the Nawiliwili Harbor and placed themselves dangerously in front of the ship, blocking its path. Among the first in the water were Kauai locals and surfers Dennis Chun, Steve Valiere and Mike Coots.

Coots {{{recalls}}} the event, “It was crazy, this huge vessel came flying into the harbor and just stopped on a dime right in front of us. We were looking up at this thing with all these people on the decks looking down on us. Hoards of protesters on the docks were cheering us on. Soon lots of surfers were in the water and I believe Steve Valiere was actually grabbing onto the vessel when the Coast Guard grabbed him and his surfboard.”

After hours of delay, it took numerous Coast Guard vessels to escort the ferry to the dock, where it met an even more unenthusiastic crowd who blocked the gates with vehicles and chains equipped with padlocks.

Police wrestled protesters, confiscated boards and cut through chains to assist the ferry in the completion of its first run. Those protesters that escaped arrest went home, rallied more members and plotted further action.

On Monday, the following evening, the ferry’s plans were altered again as it was successfully put to a halt by up to 75 surfers, body boarders and swimmers who formed a human chain across the harbor entrance, standing up against authorities and holding their ground. An estimated 1,000 protesters lined the shore as well, consisting of environmentalists and locals alike who are claming an impending environmental disaster if the ferry continues to run.

Granting the protesters sympathy for their efforts and concerned about the safety of both passengers and protesters, the company, Hawaii Superferry Inc., chose to temporarily cancel trips between the islands. Aside of this incident, both the company and Hawaii residents currently await a court hearing regarding the potential environmental impact of the ferry, which will take place in Maui, where the ferry’s operation has also been suspended.

Citizens of Kauai argue against the ferry worrying that such a service could increase the risk on the native species, many of which are already amongst the most endangered in the world. Potential risks to these creatures include the invasion of species like the Mongoose or the annoyingly loud Coqui frog. Environmentalists claim the ferry’s ability to carry over passenger vehicles, which may have encountered these species on other islands, could further threaten the island’s delicate environmental infrastructure.

Traffic flow is also as concern as the ferry is capable of transporting up to 800 people and {{{200}}} vehicles. Locals fear that on an island as rural as Kauai, with a rather small two-lane road encircling it, an abundance of vehicles would promote traffic jams and other detours.

Critics of the anti-ferry movement point out the ferry’s water propulsion system, a factor that will eliminate impact on sea life and the fact that freighters used in transporting foreign goods to the island are just as capable of carrying invasive species. Further arguments from the pro-ferry side of the debate view the ferry as a chance to cut the island’s dependence on air travel as well as the negative environmental impacts that accompany a reliance on the airplane.

The protesters, despite their temporary success, were forced to sacrifice a few of their brethren to the police as almost a dozen people were arrested during the excursion.

No matter the reason, the incident indicates an on going struggle for Hawaiians as they fight between progression and tradition in an effort to maintain the tropical paradise they call home. To surfers of this semi-secluded island paradise the ferry not only stands as another threat to their tradition but as a threat to their breaks. Because let’s face it, despite all the hype, an influx of people means an influx of surfers, leading to more crowds in Kauai’s line ups.

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