A Slower Ferry is Better

SOURCE: Dick Mayer (dickmayer@earthlink.net) SUBHEAD: The Hawaii state legislature has a Superferry bill that is flawed and misguided. By David Jung on 1 April 2011 in the Maui News - (http://www.mauinews.com/page/content.detail/id/547875/Viewpoint--Ferry-system-bill-lacks-key-information--is-misguided.html) Image above: Variation of an anti-SuperFerry poster titled "Whale Rider" created in 2007 by Juan Wilson. As general manager of Sea Link Of Hawaii, Hawaii's oldest ferry system, I feel obligated to share my 25 years of experience. Sea Link has operated since 1986 between Maui and Molokai at then-Gov. John Waihee's request to ease Molokai's unemployment problem. New ferry legislation (HB1239) has passed the state House and is poised to pass in the Senate. I am amazed and disturbed that fundamental economic and environmental questions have not been asked. While I do support a statewide ferry system, I fear this bill is misguided. What will the cost of operating a vessel and the ridership be? The legislation specifies that the service must have a 30-plus knot Superferry-type vessel; fuel consumption will be 1,500 to 2,000 gallons per hour (or 4,500 to 6,000 gallons per way from Oahu to Maui). Diesel is currently near $4 per gallon. This type of vessel is fuel inefficient and cannot compete with the 450 to 500 gallons used by a DC-9 on a 25-minute Oahu-to-Maui trip. A more conventional Alaskan or English Channel ferry will burn a fraction of that fuel. While the Superferry is a technological wonder, it is too expensive to maintain and operate on our interisland routes, even if the vessel itself were given free to the state. It will require huge subsidies, especially if the ridership is around the 150-passenger average that the Superferry was experiencing when it shut down. I have yet to see an operating budget based on 150 passengers per trip. How can we commit to a system with no idea what it will cost? The suggestion that the Superferry will be self-supporting is misleading. On the environmental side, we have seen the humpback whale population in Hawaii continue to increase. From 600 whales in the late '60s to 20,000 whales this year, it is a wonderful success story, but it has caused increases in whale/vessel collisions. While concerned about the whales, I am very concerned with the ferry and its passengers. Available research indicates high vessel speeds increase the likelihood of collisions. A 30-plus-knot ferry colliding with a 45-ton whale will likely injure passengers and cause structural damage to a lightweight, aluminum-hulled high-speed ferry, not to mention maiming or killing the whale. If a ferry is to operate during whale season, it will need to run at less than 20 knots. Sea Link's 17-knot ferry has had to slow down to avoid whales in the Kalohi Channel while the Superferry raced past at high speed. Propeller/rudder guards and the vessel-hull design should be such that effects of collisions are minimized. The Superferry twin torpedo hull is more likely to impale a humpback than a conventional hull that would ride over and drive down the animal with much less impact. The vessel needs to be specially designed for our special conditions. A large 20-knot state of the art conventional ferry should meet Hawaii's economic and environmental needs. They are currently operating successfully throughout northern Europe and Alaska. The concept of an upgraded statewide ferry system is a worthy goal. We do, however, have two successful PUC-regulated ferry companies between Maui, Molokai and Lanai. Both companies are self-supporting and pay PUC and employee taxes. Sea Link even has been subsidizing Molokai workers for over 20 years with a $25 round-trip fare at no cost to the state. Why the Legislature wants to include these routes with a state-run ferry and force out these two companies is beyond comprehension. House Bill 1239 is flawed. It will only lessen the chances of a successful operation being introduced. I implore our citizens and our legislators to take the time to carefully consider the issues. • David Jung is general manager of Sea Link of Hawaii. See also: Island Breath: Boycott the Superferry! 8/17/07 (with several links to prior articles) .

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