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Residents Protest Passenger Yacht

Meetings held to discuss community action.

As American Safari Cruises’ (ASC) yacht docked on its first trip to Molokai last Sunday morning, protesters greeted it with requests to leave local waters.

Over two dozen kupuna, teachers, fishermen, cultural practitioners and others chanted “No cruise ship” and “Go home!” toward the 145-foot boat, named the Safari Explorer.

As two vans carrying the boat’s passengers departed the docking area, protesters marched across the road holding signs reading “boycott this ship,” “you’re not welcomed” and “Hawaiian way or no way.”

Despite what some see as a benefit to Molokai’s economy and local businesses, others are upset that the venture was not discussed ahead of time in a community meeting, and that what they consider proper local protocol was not followed. Many also worry about the precedent this may set for future cruise companies.

“It’s critical that there’s a process in which the community can respond to you,” Molokai activist Walter Ritte told ASC officials last week.

The Safari Explorer is scheduled to make weekly stops to Molokai with a maximum of 36 passengers per visit. During their stay, guests will tour Halawa Valley, the plumeria and macadamia nut farms and attend a pa`ina and history lesson at the Molokai Museum and Cultural Center. ASC is also buying local produce and beef to serve onboard.

“I am not aware of all the protocols but I’m learning,” said ASC CEO Dan Blanchard during a community meeting he called on Molokai last Friday. “For those of you who may have felt put aside…that was not the intention.”

Blanchard calls his company an “un-cruise” – “the antithesis of a typical cruise.”

“If there was a cruise coming into Kaunakakai, I wouldn’t want to be on it,” he said. “I honor all of you who fought off cruise ships.”

`Aha Ki`ole Involvement

During a meeting called by the `Aha Ki`ole last Thursday, Karen Poepoe said the organization is surveying its nearly 500 members on whether or not they support the yacht’s Molokai stops.

Mervin Dudoit, Kaunakakai moku representative, has been vocal in his opposition of the project. “The boat coming in my moku – there needed to be a community meeting.”

“Don’t say we don’t love the malihini because we do, but they gotta knock on the door, not come in the window,” said fisherman Leimana Naki.

Byron Espaniola, representative for the Kaluakoi moku, stated his support for Dudoit, but also for a fellow Maunaloa resident who is employed because of the yacht.

Teri Waros, who has worked with American Safari Cruises to facilitate conversations on Molokai, said at Friday’s ASC meeting that she was denied the opportunity to speak to the `Aha Ki`ole because of her previous work for Molokai Ranch. She added that when Dudoit “told me to take it to `Aha Ki`ole, that’s when I wrote” a letter explaining the project. “There was no [established] process” for presenting this type information, she added.

“I don’t want to change this place… but I don’t want to let it die,” Waros said, who added that she has lost a lot in her fight against the Ranch, and has been an active supporter of the `Aha Ki`ole since its inception. People “have to move off-island because there are no jobs here… All we’re doing to do is help some folks pay their rent this month.”

ASC Responds
ASC’s Amy Venema became emotional when she spoke of the feeling she and others get on Molokai during Friday’s meeting. “It’s a beautiful place – you feel it – and we want to do it right,” she said.

Blanchard explained while it’s important to understand what his company does, it’s also important to understand what they don’t do. While traveling to the north shore of Molokai or Hale O Lono were discussed originally, Blanchard said when he “realized [the north shore] was a very sacred area” and Hale O Lono was a popular local hang-out spot, he quickly abandoned those ideas. He added that the Safari Explorer will bring no kayaking, snorkeling or fishing to Molokai waters, nor small boat activity or beach landings.

“We want to be very considerate… of not getting in people’s way,” Blanchard said.

Blanchard and Venema also spoke of the education about each island they provide their passengers. For Molokai, that could include the island’s opposition to the proposed wind turbines and undersea cable. The guests, in turn, take that information back with them, share it with friends, and have even sent “letters to Congress on issues we present.”

“In order for us to control our future, we have to have a mechanism to control you so the next guys who come in can see that,” Ritte responded, referring to the planned protest. “Some of things you’re talking about makes a lot of sense… but it’s about the process.”

Lawrence Aki of Halawa Valley, who will offer guided tours to the passengers, shared some history of the company’s interactions, beginning in 2005, when Blanchard first visited Molokai.  He said Blanchard and Venema kept “showing up on [his] doorstep” because he refused to come out of the valley to meet them, he added, laughing. “Through that process, [I] found that these two people were true,” he said.

“I have seen people struggle to keep the culture the same way we struggle to keep the money,” said Molokai’s Kanoe Davis. “We have a lot of Hawaiians and a lot of malihini in this room who fight for the same cause – to survive.”

Ritte offered the option of delaying the first sailing, which he said would give the `Aha Ki`ole and community time to respond and time for ASC to “work with us.”

After the meeting, Blanchard said it was “a joy” to meet with Molokai residents and that he had a lot to think about.

Ritte said he waited all day Saturday to hear whether or not the boat would stick to schedule or cancel the Molokai stop, before he called for the protest the next morning.

“We want control over tourism,” he said to those gathered at the wharf Sunday morning. “The time of talking was presented to you,” he said of ASC.

“We love them,” said kupuna Judy Caparida, “but… greed sets in and they forget the promises they made.”