Superferry Stopped

Pacific Whale Foundation helps stop superferry from operating in whale waters

Pacific Whale Foundation played an active role in stopping the high-speed, interisland Hawaii Superferry from operating in a critical humpback whale mating and calving area. The Hawai Superferry is no longer operating as of March, 2009.

The Hawaii Superferry was a new privately owned inter-island ferry system, that operated a 350 foot-long, four-story high-speed catamaran to carry passengers, vehicles and freight between Oahu and Maui. These gigantic ships could carry upwards of 850 passengers and 280 vehicles each. The Hawaii Superferry could cruise at speeds of up to 45 mph, greatly endangering humpback whales and all marine life in their path. Whales and other animals are not able to get out of the way of a large vessel moving that fast. When struck, they could either be killed or suffer severe injuries and wounds. Scientific studies of ship strikes have shown that vessels over 240 feet in length and traveling at speeds over 14 knots (~ 16 mph) are most likely to kill or mortally injure large whales. This size of vessel simply cannot see the whales or notices them too late to be avoided.

Greg KaufmanPacific Whale Foundation President and Founder Greg Kaufman had attended national and international forums on the issue of vessel-whale collisions and is recognized by the Hawaii courts as a scientific expert on vessel-whale collisions. Pacific Whale Foundation recommended speeds of 15 knots or less for all vessels, as part of our 'Be Whale Aware' educational campaign to prevent vessel-whale collisions.

Pacific Whale Foundation joined with other Maui environmental groups in calling for the State of Hawaii to require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before the Superferry service is allowed to begin. An EIS would identify issues related to marine life and whales, along with additional issues such as transport of invasive species, and traffic congestion. These issues should have been adequately addressed before the Superferry was allowed to begin operation.

Our staff testified at many public hearings on this issue. Our staff held a demonstration in August 2007 during a public open house of the new Superferry vessel to remind those attending that the problem of potential whale collisions has not been resolved.

The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled on August 24, 2007 that the state is required to prepare an environmental assessment for harbor improvements to Kahului Harbor to accommodate the Hawaii Superferry. In October 2007, the state legislature (in a special session convened by Governer Linda Lingle) passed Act 2, a law allowing the Superferry to offer Honolulu to Kahului service while the environmental impact study was being conducted.

Pacific Whale Foundation President Greg Kaufman presented testimony regarding the continued threat posed by the Hawaii Superferry to humpback whales in Hawaii's waters at a meeting of the Hawaii Superferry Oversight Task Force on September 19th, 2008. The meeting focused on the wide range of environmental risks attributed to the Superferry. These risks were becoming especially pressing due to the approach of whale season and the end of the year, which would also signal the end of state funded DLNR inspections of cargo transported on the Superferry.

While the Hawaii Superferry company made some concessions to recommendations regarding whale protection (including use of night vision goggles by spotters and reduced speeds at night during the period they have defined as whale season), they had not implemented a number of other recommendations deemed necessary by many, including Greg Kaufman.

In March 2009, the State Supreme Court ruled that Act 2 was unconstitutional. According to the court, Act 2 was viewed as unconstitutional because it was crafted specifically to benefit just one business, Hawaii Superferry. The court wrote that Act 2 was passed "to accomplish the specific purpose of allowing the Superferry, and the Superferry alone, to operate without satisfying the requirements of Chapter 343 of the Hawaii statutes." Since then, the Hawaii Superferry operation has ceased; the vessel Alakai has left Hawaii, leaving Hawaii's taxpayers to pay the bills.