Yacht Docking Canceled Last Weekend
The Safari Explorer passenger yacht did not dock last weekend as scheduled after more than 300 community members attended a public meeting last Wednesday night. Residents spoke both for and against the yacht’s Molokai stop, but enough voiced concerns, according to American Safari Cruises (ASC) owner Dan Blanchard, that he postponed the docking until the company could talk to more community members.
“We are committed to further dialogue and will respectfully work with leaders in the community,” Blanchard said in a statement Thursday.
Halawa Valley resident and cultural practitioner Lawrence Aki said he called the meeting to find “what it is that Molokai wants.” Aki said he has been working with Blanchard and local business owners and residents for five years to plan the yacht’s Molokai stop.
Yet many residents said they feel they were left out of the planning process.
“We are not against this cruise ship,” said activist Walter Ritte, who has led protests against the yacht. “[Thirty-six people is] not a big deal. So why are we protesting? Nobody asked us what are our concerns … We demand participation and control.” He called the protesters “Aloha `Aina Warriors.”
“I don’t think we do anything that isn’t already being done by visitors who come here,” said Blanchard, highlighting his company’s eco-friendly practices and education of passengers on local culture, environment and current issues. He added that the Safari Explorer only makes its Hawaii voyages November through April, after which it travels in Alaska.
Some said the yacht and its passengers bring much-needed income.
“If I never had tourists coming in our store, we wouldn’t make it,” said one local businesswoman. “Give them [ASC] a chance.”
Others say a subsistence lifestyle is what supports them, and they argue money is not enough reason to allow the Safari Explorer to dock on Molokai.
“I hunt, I fish, I farm — I can live without your money,” resident Anela Albino told Blanchard at the meeting.
“It’s not about what Molokai wants, it’s about what we can control,” said Lori Buchanan, a member of the Molokai Planning Commission. She said the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Department of Land and Natural Resources “cannot turn away any commercial operation at the wharf.”
Blanchard said the proper permits were received through the DOT, though an environmental impact statement was not necessary because the operation does not require changes to existing harbor facilities.
The `Aha Ki`ole is conducting an island-wide survey to better gauge public views on the yacht. The survey period will be over on Dec. 16, according to Opu`ulani Albino, a local `Aha Ki`ole leader. After that time, she said, the group will make a recommendation based on the survey’s results.
Albino stressed that while individual `Aha Ki`ole leaders may have strong personal views, as a group, they remain neutral and separate from protesters.
Another `Aha Ki`ole leader, Kamalu Poepoe, said one of the survey’s goals is to be a “temperature check” for average residents who aren’t immediately affected by the yacht one way or another.
Zeke Kalua, a Molokai native and executive assistant to Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa, said his attendance at the meeting was neither in support nor opposition of the yacht, but said he “represents a majority of sons and daughters who can’t come home right now” because of the poor economy.
“We have to take into consideration that progress can be made without destroying the island,” he said.
County Council Chair and Molokai representative Danny Mateo agreed, saying after the meeting, “our island’s economy is dying. We gotta bring our kids home.”
“The time has come to decide as a community what the role [of tourism] is – what is acceptable,” he added.
Many testifiers apologized for harsh words that have been exchanged over the past several weeks, and expressed the hope that residents can come together as a community on the issue.
Ritte offered Blanchard what he called “a truce” last Wednesday: the yacht stops docking on Molokai for several months, and the process will be turned over to the ‘Aha Ki’ole council, a statewide federally-mandated resource management group with an active membership on Molokai.
“If they say (the yacht) can come, the people have spoken. … We are willing to abide by that no matter what,” Ritte said.
Blanchard said Thursday he doesn’t think “months” is a feasible time period to postpone Molokai stops, but didn’t give a time frame for how long he’ll keep the ship away, saying “we will just focus on what we can do.”