New State Ferry Under Consideration
Opinion by David Jung
As general manager of Sea Link of Hawaii, the state’s oldest ferry system in 1986, I feel obligated to share my 25 years’ experience to members of our legislature and the general public. Sea Link operated between Maui and Oahu in 1986, and thereafter between Maui and Molokai, at then Gov. Waihee’s request to ease Molokai’s unemployment.
A new ferry legislation – HB 1239 – authorizes a Hawaii State Ferry System to transport people and cargo between islands. The bill has already passed in the state House and is poised to pass in the Senate. I am amazed and disturbed that the basic fundamental economic and environmental questions have not been asked, much less answered. While I do support a state-wide ferry system, I fear this bill is misguided.
The current legislation specifies that the service must have a 30-plus knot Superferry-type vessel – meaning fuel consumption will be in the 1,500-2,000 gallon per hour range (or 4,500-6,000 gallons per each one way Oahu to Maui). Diesel is currently near $4 per gallon. This type of vessel is very fuel inefficient and cannot compete with the 450-500 gallons used by DC 9 on a 25-minute Oahu to Maui trip.
On the environmental side, we have seen the humpback whale populations in Hawaii continue to increase. From 600 whales in the late 60s, to 20,000 whales this year is a wonderful success story but it has caused yearly increases in whale/vessel collisions. While concerned about the whales, I am very concerned with the ferry and its passengers. All available research indicates high vessel speed increase the likelihood of collisions. A 30-plus knot ferry colliding with a forty-five 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. Several times, Sea Link’s 17-knot ferry had to slow down to avoid whales in the Kalohi channel, while the former Superferry raced past at high speed, trying to maintain its schedule.
The concept of an upgrade state-wide 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; Sea Link even subsidizes Molokai workers 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 independent companies is beyond all comprehension. House bill 1239 is flawed and should not move forward. I implore our citizens and our legislators to take the time and carefully consider the issues.