Security Measures, Peaceful Protests Greet Yacht’s Return
Nearly 50 U.S. Coast Guard personnel, as well as dozens of county, state and federal law enforcement guarded a security zone around Kaunakakai Harbor for the return of American Safari Cruises’ yacht Safari Explorer last Saturday. Armed members of the San Francisco-based Maritime Safety and Security Team, specializing in anti-terrorism, manned Zodiacs, while officials also patrolled by jet-ski and on foot. In equivalent numbers, Molokai residents held signs protesting not only the yacht, but also the security measures – which many community members said made them feel like terrorists.
The temporary security zone was enforced one hour before and 10 minutes after the arrival and departure of the 36-passenger Safari Explorer, during which time no one was allowed to enter the perimeter. The zone encompasses an approximately 925,000 square yard area – or about the size of 50 football fields. According to the ruling, the security zone may go into effect any time between Jan. 20 and May 15, according to Coast Guard Captain Joanna Nunan.
Because no arrests were made and protesters did not enter the water, Nunan said officials will reevaluate the need for the security measures this week. “It’s not our goal to be here every time [the yacht docks],” she said Saturday. “We’re hoping we won’t need to in the future.”
Gov. Neil Abercrombie called for the security zone after public safety concerns were raised when Molokai protesters took to the water in order to block the yacht on Nov. 26. Coast Guard and state representatives met on Molokai last Tuesday informing residents of the new security zone. Many residents were outraged, saying it would interrupt their lifestyles and water activities like paddling and fishing.
Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Chair William Aila said the state would be liable if someone was injured during protests. However, activists said they had planned to honor an agreement not to protest after American Safari Cruises agreed to temporarily suspend its Molokai visits. This was the company’s first port call since December. During that time, the community has held a series of meetings discussing tourism and growth on Molokai, organized by the Aha Kiole, a resource management group that has acted as a neutral advisory body.
“We protested so we could go through this process,” said Hanohano Naehu Tuesday. “Now as a protester who loves this `aina… you’re making me feel like a terrorist. We’re the guardians, we’re not the terrorists.”
Aila acknowledged the progress the Molokai community has made to reach an agreement.
“Challenges of meeting tourism growth is something that’s not just restricted to Molokai,” said Aila. “These challenges are happening around the state, but Molokai is at the forefront to getting close to community consensus on these issues. Other communities are only starting and looking to Molokai for some success…”
Yet he added that ensuring public safety is the state’s main goal, and concluded that Saturday’s security measures would move forward no matter what.
Some residents said they had not taken a stance for or against the yacht’s visit to Molokai, but were outraged by what they considered the use of excessive force in security measures.
“I wasn’t against the cruise ship but I’m against [officials] blocking this harbor,” said one resident at Tuesday’s meeting.
Coast Guard spokesperson Lt. Gene Maestas said the security zone was chosen over other options because it is “a legal mechanism that allows county, state and federal” enforcement to work together. He added that the Coast Guard’s expenses for the operation are part of their normal budget – they perform similar security details around the world. Aila said the state’s costs have not yet been calculated.