Harbor pilots' dilemma: Megaships at Nawiliwili

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HONOLULU -- Cruising's megaships face an uncertain future in Kauai.

Later this summer, Hawaii's harbor pilots will decide if the megas can be safely steered into Nawiliwili Harbor, according to Dave Lyman, president of the Hawaii Pilots Association.

At the invitation of several cruise lines (Carnival, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean) the state's nine harbor pilots are practicing guiding some of the large ships in Alaska to see if they will be able to steer them into Nawiliwili in the fall, when the big ships are scheduled to call on Kauai.

The pilots are also practicing on Norwegian Cruise Line simulators in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Nawiliwili's harbor pilots have twice turned away Celebrity Cruises' 965-foot-long, 91,000-ton Infinity during inclement weather because of the ship's size and the pilots' unfamiliarity with the ship's technology. According to the pilots, they would have guided in a smaller ship in similar weather conditions.

"The problem on Kauai is the harbor and the ships," said Lyman. "These new ships are extremely long and extremely tall, and the winds at Nawiliwili can be capricious and strong."

Lyman said the height of the megaships allows more area for the wind to catch on and push a ship in the wrong direction.

"The clearances in that harbor right now are intolerable for anything but the best of conditions" for the large ships, Lyman said.

"We're the ones who keep the ships off the rocks, and if there's a big ship that can't fit into a tiny harbor, then we won't do it," he added.

Lyman said the harbor pilots won't make a determination whether they will attempt to land the ships in Kauai until after the end of the Alaska cruise season.

Two other large ships that are scheduled to call on Kauai in the fall are Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas, at 962 feet and 90,060 tons, and Carnival Cruise Line's Carnival Spirit at 963 feet and 88,500 tons.

Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Star, which is 965 feet long and 91,000 tons, is set to begin making interisland cruises in the state, including Kauai, in mid-December.

All four ships are promoting calls at Kauai although the pilots have not decided whether they will attempt to land the ships.

A spokeswoman for Norwegian said the company "is happy the pilots have accepted the invitation to sail on the ships in Alaska, and we are confident that we will be taking our guests to Kauai."

Tom Fujikawa, Hawaii Harbors Division administrator, said, "If the cruise companies are confident that the ships can be brought in safely, then it's only fair that the pilots give it a try.

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