American Safari Cruises in Hawaii standoff


An informational meeting aimed at diffusing a standoff between some residents of Molokai and a small-ship operator drew an estimated 200 concerned islanders last week.

The Nov. 30 meeting, held at a community center on Molokai, followed several protests by local citizens who do not want American Safari Cruises to call at the island's Kaunakakai port.

At least one protest, in late November, was organized as a water blockade and successfully prevented the line's 36-passenger Safari Explorer from visiting the Hawaiian island, located about 25 miles from Maui.

Local media reported that some island residents fear an eventual onslaught of tourists, and they have complained that the community has not been allowed to participate in creating a sustainable tourism strategy for the rural island.

American Safari Cruises CEO Dan Blanchard attended the meeting and met privately with a protester.

"I attended two separate meetings [Nov. 30] on Molokai," Blanchard said. "The first meeting was with the head of the protestors and the other a community meeting."

He added: "There was great representation, both pro and con, at the community meeting. As a result, I will be meeting with more people on the island in hopes of a long-term, mutually agreeable resolution."

Robert Stephenson, president of the Molokai Chamber of Commerce, issued a statement after the meeting, saying, "We are grateful the community understands the importance of viable commerce and lawful behavior. Once again, the wisdom of our kupuna [island elders] showed us the way to behave in resolving our differences. We're optimistic for a positive outcome."

Stephenson declined to elaborate or to describe the atmosphere of the event, but one source who attended the gathering said that island elders "set the tone for the meeting and emphasized the importance of working together in a respectful way."

The meeting attendee, who requested anonymity, added: "Many of them complimented Dan Blanchard for his transparency and willingness to stand before the community and answer questions."

On Nov. 26, the day of the water blockade, about 14 residents in small boats and on surfboards prevented the Safari Explorer from entering the port.

"The boat was met by people in the water so [the captain] decided to skip its first day in Molokai," a spokeswoman for American Safari said at the time. "The safety of all involved is always the top priority."

The following day, she noted, the vessel docked at Molokai "without incident and was met by supporters from the community."

It was unclear if the protesters planned to stage additional water blockades.

This is American Safari Cruises' first season operating in Hawaii. The Safari Explorer is scheduled to sail seven-night Hawaiian Seascapes cruises through early May and return next November for the 2012-13 winter season.

The itinerary calls for the ship to spend two days in Molokai.

For cruise news and updates, follow Donna Tunney on Twitter @dttravelweekly.


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