hawaii superferry – a ship captain’s perspective

Hawaii Superferry

A ferry at the center of much debate (including a record number of comments on this blog) has sailed into a storm that will likely sink her dream. The problem came Tuesday after Maui Judge Joseph Cardoza ruled against Hawaii Superferry resuming service to Maui until an environmental assessment is performed.

While the Department of Transportation took quick action last week in selecting engineering firm Belt Collins to conduct the $1 million dollar plus assessment, it could still take several months to be completed exposing the Superferry to estimated losses of $650,000 per month in the duration. Superferry president and CEO John Garibaldi stated the loss of time and revenue would be too much for the company to survive. Yesterday Garibaldi announced “with a heavy heart” the company would immediately lay off 249 employees; 36 on Maui, 35 on Kauai and 178 on Oahu, keeping just 59 workers on the job to handle administrative and operational duties.

The maritime world was quick to show it’s disappointment in the ruling with Maritime Executive editor Joseph Keefe contributing the most intelligent comments on the topic in an article titled “Profiles in Stupidity: Hawaii Superferry Idled by Courts“. In the paragraph that’s at the heart of the commentary Keefe states;

The situation in Hawaii is not unique, however. It plays itself out all over the fruited plain, every day. There hasn’t been a refinery built in this country for more than three decades despite a clear and present need for more refining capacity. We continue to be held hostage to a trade deficit that hinges largely on energy imports because we don’t have the intestinal fortitude to drill for the domestic oil and gas that we know is available, here and now. The same Congress that considers drilling (in the Arctic or the Gulf of Mexico) a sacrilege, at the same time extends MFN (Most Favored Nation) status to countries that deliver toxic products to our shores. And just across the Rio Grande, our NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) partners spill their bile from factories that would never pass environmental muster in the most lax state in the union.

So what exactly do the anti-ferry activists considerer the problem? In a set of comments posted to our previous supperferry post savekahuluiharbor.com blogger Karen Chun sums up the opposition’s feeling;

I think what you are seeing is a tremendous culture clash between what has been described as “the American Dream” (e.g. work hard and make a lot of money) and the Hawaiian culture which is embodied in our state motto: “Ua mau ka ea o ka ‘aina i ka pono”.

As with all Hawaiian sayings this has meaning on many levels but best translated to: “The life of the land continues (is preserved) by doing the right thing (harmony with correct behavior)”

So we have people who see the land as something that they use (up) to create their dream of monetary prosperity coming to a place where the land is seen as something to be preserved in its natural state and where the measure of success is not monetary but how you live your life in harmony with the virtues of ha’aha’a (humbleness), lokahi (unity) and aloha (a VERY misused word that I won’t even attempt to explain.

(read her full comment HERE)

While I do believe her statement is genuine I suspect the true problem lays with theory stated by Thomas Friedman in his book The World is Flat. Friedman believes that exponential technical advances of the digital revolution that have made it possible to do business, or almost anything else, instantaneously with billions of other people across the planet. This means the loss of jobs for many Americans but also the potential for wealth and geographical freedom for a smaller set of entrepreneurs. Combined with more effective means of transportation, which the ferry hoped to provide, these factors are enabling an increasing number of the second set to relocate west.

I have thought about this topic for some time. Working aboard ships worldwide and blogging online bring me the financial and geographical freedom to move to Hawaii so when a friend visited Maui a few months back her question seemed obvious. She asked “Maui is the most beautiful place I have ever visited. If you can live anywhere and afford the prices why not move?” My answer was simple; “It just takes too much time traveling home to see relatives.” The ferry helps solve this problem and therefore helps more families like ours make the decision to relocate to an island considered by locals as over crowded. If my assessment is right I understand the concern. The weather, natural beauty and opposition to development were the key factors in my family’s decision to move from Manhattan to Morro Bay California.

In addition to Keefe’s article there is one more factor that supports his opinion; history. To make a proper assessment of the situation we need to ask locals who have been though the fight. The following is a reply to Chun’s comment from Canary Islands resident Ricard Sala;

Hello everyone!!

Well I have never written in this blog I would like to add my 5 cents worth…I am not in any way in the merchant marine nor do I live in Hawaii. I am a pilot, live in Switzerland but I spent most of my youth in the Canary Islands and that is were my oipinion comes in.
The canary islands might be the closets geographical thing to the hawaiian islands there are in the world, 7 islands isolated from the mainland and underinvested for many years. We started in late 80’s with our own regional airline and years later the sole ferry company(which undeserved the market) was joined by FRed Olsen and their fast ferries. That alone opened up a whole world of possibilities for many people to travel, and we are talking here about people with no or very little money as well as large groups, students, schools on day trips, the daily crossings from Gran Canaria to Tenerife became part of he local scenery, it not only represented a boost to the local economies (from the opening of restaurants, to the hiring of the catering crew) but eventually it meant investment on the roads as well.
Now, I do not know local politics and as i sais I do not know the in and out, but, it seems to me a case on “not in my backyard” and manipulated people by local interests (probably airlines)…
If you were today to ask any canarian their opinion about the ferry I think it would be hard to find a single anti-ferry person.

Well that is it, just my opinion folks…

Cheers everyone!!

My assessment… Keefe is spot on. Your thoughts?

John A. Konrad, Master Mariner

John Konrad is a USCG licensed Master Mariner of Unlimited Tonnage currently working as Chief Mate aboard a 835′ship in the Gulf of Mexico. Since graduating from SUNY Maritime College he has sailed in 4 of the world’s oceans and reports from his ship via satellite.