Port space evaporating in Hawaii

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HONOLULU -- Norwegian Cruise Line's addition of a year-round ship to Hawaii waters next year could be the last if the state does not add more port space, according to public and private cruise officials here.

With the arrival of the 1,960-passenger SuperStar Leo on Dec. 16, 2001, Hawaii's harbors will be packed to near capacity, say shipping insiders.

"We have unlimited potential here as a cruise destination, but it's limited by the facilities," said Bill Thayer, president of Waldron Steamship in Honolulu.

"We are already at the point where we could be turning people away because we simply don't have the parking spaces for cruise ships."

SuperStar Leo will transfer to NCL from the fleet of Star Cruises, NCL's Singapore-based parent.

The ship will be renamed and join two other Hawaii-based cruise ships offering regular sailings: United States Lines' Patriot and American Hawaii Cruises' Independence.

Both lines are owned by U.S.-flag operator American Classic Voyages. U.S. Lines also is building two 1,900-passenger ships for year-round Hawaii cruises in 2003 and 2004, respectively.

Just bringing NCL to Hawaii was a difficult task because of port scheduling conflicts between cargo ships, the Patriot and Independence and the many repositioning cruises that call in Hawaii during the year, said Thayer and Tom Fujikawa, the administrator for the state of Hawaii's Harbor Division.

"We are getting congested and we are now getting conflicts because of scheduling at our piers," said Fujikawa. "Norwegian is great for Hawaii, but it causes us concern about the scheduling problems.

"For the foreseeable future we are OK, but if there was a huge influx, we might have to turn them away."

The Honolulu harbor can accommodate three large ships at a time, but it does not have a passenger terminal. Fujikawa said the harbors divisions will ask the legislature for $20 million to build a new terminal by 2003.

Thayer said piers at Hilo on the Big Island and Nawiliwili on Kauai only can take one large cruise ship at a time.

Fujikawa said there are projects waiting for funding at the piers in Hilo and Nawiliwili but those projects are subject to the whims of the legislature.

There is space for cruise ships in Kona on the Big Island, but it too is a place where passengers must take a tender to shore.

On Maui, cruise ships can use the cargo terminal in Kahului or anchor outside Lahaina. Lahaina needs a wider channel and a dedicated tendering port, said Thayer.

Thayer said even the improvements for Hawaii's piers that are planned and heading for the legislature may not be enough for future demand.

"The facilities we are planning could easily be eclipsed in the future," said Thayer. "When United States Lines brings its third ship in 2003, that will be the critical time."

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