High winds and rough seas kept the 1,266-passenger Holland America cruise ship Statendam from making its first visit to the island of Moloka`i this past weekend. While the day-trip cancellation disappointed many residents and businesses who were looking to welcome the estimated 800 passengers originally expected to come ashore, other islanders and environmental activists cheered and vowed to return the next time a cruise ship attempts to visit.
In the small town of Kaunakakai, several hundred business people, craftspeople, artists and food vendors had prepared a “ho`olaulea” to welcome the cruise ship visitors. Meanwhile, over 150 protesters some coming in from other islands to participate were waiting for the Statendam early Saturday morning, wearing with “No Cruise Ships on Moloka`i” shirts, and some of them heading out in canoes and small boats. They waved signs and banners that said, “Go Home,” “Protect Our Land,” and “Regulate Cruise Ships.”
The Statendam appeared and hovered on the horizon a little after 7 a.m., turning a few times as it apparently sought out a passage nearer to shore at Kaunakakai Harbor. (Since there are no piers to accommodate such a large ship, passengers would have had to be shuttled to the island on smaller boats.) An hour later, the shaky weather prevailed, and the cruise ship left the area for Kona.
Moloka`i, with a population of about 6,000, is often described as “The Most Hawaiian Island.” It has an abundance of natural beauty, friendly people, and no traffic not even a single traffic light. It also has a weak economy, and the highest unemployment rate in the state (about 9 percent). The Moloka`i Visitors Bureau estimated a single day-trip from a cruise shop could bring more than $130,000 in business.
But some Moloka`i residents, along with environmentalists from around the state, are concerned about the impact the cruise ship and its passengers (and crew) would have on the environment. In addition to water pollution, opponents point to the Statendam’s hull and five-ton anchor as a major threat to the coral reefs surrounding Moloka`i. And, they say, damage to the island’s treasured sites is inevitable with a ship’s arrival essentially boosting the island’s population by 10 percent within a matter of minutes.
Seattle-based Holland America has emphasized the encouragement of the Moloka`i Visitors Bureau, as well as the support of Gov. Linda Lingle and Maui County Mayor-elect Alan Arakawa. But opponents are committed to convincing the company that the enjoyment of its customers do not outweigh their adverse impact on the island. The Moloka`i environmental group Hui Ho`opakele `Aina, backed by the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice, has filed a lawsuit challenging the approvals of the state departments of Transportation and Land and Natural Resources.
The case is expected to be heard on Jan. 22, the same day the Statendam is scheduled to return for a second attempt at the first-ever cruise ship stop on Moloka`i.
Many cruise ship visit opponents stress that tourists are welcome in smaller numbers, and suggest alternatives like the regular ferry between Lahaina and Moloka`i.
Holland America’s press release on the addition of Moloka`i to its itinerary describes the island as “less-touristed.” The Moloka`i visit was to be a highlight of its three new 16-day Circle Hawaii cruises, departing and returning from San Diego, scheduled through the fall of 2003. Fares on the cruise start at $3,300.
The company already has a regular 15-day Circle Hawaii cruise that feature the Big Island, Oahu, Kauai and Maui.