Where did our interisland ferry go?

Interisland Travel

In the 1930s, residents and visitors could travel between Hawaii’s islands by boat. “Travel to the outside islands by boat was $9 to Kaua‘i, $5.50 to Moloka‘i and Lana‘i, $14.50 one way to Hilo, and only $11.50 to Mahukona, Kawaihae, and Kailua on the Big Island,” wrote Maile Yardley in her book “Hawaii’s Glamour Days” (1996).

I don’t know when we lost our interisland ferry service, but we currently have just two ferries that connect Maui and Lanai and Maui and Molokai. The Hawaii Super Ferry, which transported passengers, cargo, and vehicles, closed down in 2009 after just 15 months of service.

To be honest, I expected the next governor to step up and revive the project. I expected another Hawaii company to try to find a way to run a ferry service efficiently and affordably. I expected more public support for an interisland ferry to connect all of the islands. I missed my chance to ride the Super Ferry, and I don’t understand why we can’t bring it back.

Most island nations have a ferry service. In Indonesia, there are passenger liners that do weekly and monthly circuits among the islands, as well as ASDP fast ferries. In Japan, there is a ferry service between the main Japanese islands as well as other islands in the Japan Sea, China, and South Korea, with shared or private berths. In the Bahamas, there are slow boats to the Out Islands and Fast Ferries that run twice daily between Nassau and Harbor Island and North Eleuthera, and twice weekly between Nassau and Governor’s Harbour, Eleuthera. In Australia, there is passenger and vehicle ferry service between Melbourne and Tasmania; a SeaLink ferry between South Australia and Kangaroo Island; and ferries connecting suburbs in capital cities.

True, those island nations have a much larger population than Hawaii’s 1.4 million people. But consider Fiji, with around 900,000 people on 106 inhabited islands, which is connected by fast passenger catamarans, passenger ferries, and cargo boats. Consider the twin islands of Trinidad and Tobago, with around 1.3 million people, which are connected by a daily ferry service between Port Spain and Scarborough for passengers, cargo, and vehicles; as well as the Water Taxi service between Port Spain and San Fernando. Yet Hawaii relies on airplanes for interisland travel.

Here are 7 reminders about why Hawaii needs an interisland passenger ferry service:

* Convenience. A ferry would allow passengers to take their pets, vehicles, surfboards, canoes, bicycles, mopeds, and more to other islands. Luggage could be stored in cars, and you could be ready to go just after arriving at a port.

* Affordability. A ferry service might take longer, but it could also be more affordable for families and large groups, like a family that wants to go camping, a high school band, or a theatre group.

* Choice. A ferry service is a good alternative for people who don’t like to travel by air; who want room to move around or fresh air instead of recycled cabin air; or who have large valuables that they don’t want to trust to baggage handling. It could offer amenities with fine dining and entertainment for those who want a more luxurious way to travel.

* Business transport. A ferry service could help small businesses transport products to neighbor islands more quickly and affordably, letting them load up their own vehicles and deliver to their customers.

* Kamaaina tourism. We could promote neighbor island staycations, strengthening our economy and helping Hawaii businesses. Passengers could even cruise around the islands.

* Emergency response. A ferry could carry foods, supplies, medicine, and aid workers to affected areas during and after a hurricane, tsunami, or other natural disaster.

* Evacuation. A ferry could carry wounded or displaced persons to a more safe or well-stocked area, or could reunite families on different islands after a disaster.

I think it’s again time to plan for a ferry service to give residents and visitors more options for interisland travel. We are an island state and we need to be more connected to each other. What do you think?

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26 Comments on “Where did our interisland ferry go?”

  1. retiredflyer Says:

    It would do well to remember who caused the Super Ferry’s demise. It was the same group of self styled Hawaiian radicals that now wants to scuttle the Thirty Meter Telescope. Some research will reveal that the same attorney retained by said group(s) to sink the ferry is now involved in the attempt to kill the TMT. Follow the money.


    • Hi RetiredFlyer, thanks for your comments and for reading Better Hawaii. I think that environmental concerns were the main argument against the SuperFerry, whereas cultural issues are the main opposition to the Thirty Meter Telescope? aloha, Rachelle

  2. Bert Westbury Says:

    Please do your homework. The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Linda Lingle’s exemption of environmental review for Hawaii Super Ferry was its demise, not some radical Hawaiians or environmentalists, as if those labels constitute something bad. The whole thing never made economic sense and was a ruse for testing the high speed vessels for the military, as easily seen by the financeers. Not to mention that so many people got sea sick that it became nicknamed the “Barf Boat.”

    • clifhasegawa Says:

      Thank you for your forthright and candid comments. Certainly the current political and economic climate have created a barrier to moving forward on an InterIsland Ferry for Hawaii. The checklists and punch cards are close to filled. The timing is critical and the time does not now appear to be favorable. Your thoughts are appreciated. We hope to revisit in the near future. ~~~ The Kaimanu Maritime Corporation Team

  3. clifhasegawa Says:

    Seven Reasons : Very succinctly stated.

    We will do our best to bring a value-centered, financially and economically sustainable InterIsland ferry to Hawaii. Much due diligence, environmental and market research needs to be accomplished before a firm decision to proceed is made. Thank you for you encouragement and continued inspiration. ~Kaimanu Maritime Corporation


  4. I’m sure the Airlines, Matson Shipping, Barging Services were paying for LOBBIEST and stirring and funding the Hornets nests….then governor Linda Linda should have done a simple Environmental Impact Statement (EiS) and if anyone really believed that the Ferry would be plowing over Whale or Dolphin Pods is ridiculous and insulting for the World’s smartest mammals. Living on Maui, this year we had a record 3000+ humpback whale and now are being removed from the endangered species list, they have Sonar for a reason. New Zealand has Ferry’s between North and South Island, British Colombia…..LETS GET THE FERRY SERVICE BACK!!!


  5. There will never be a ferry service.

    The Superferry proved that the time and cost to operate it was too high. The Molokai ferry is failing for the same reason. Too expensive to use it, too expensive to operate it and the airlines get you there in less than 1/3 the time.

    Sorry the economics do not favor a ferry service. The channels between the Island are too rough. The list goes on, but the myth of the court case goes on and on.

  6. Kurt Says:

    I had the pleasure of taking the Super Ferry just before the state killed it. And I can confirm it was a wonderful experience. The boat just zoomed along at 50mph. And I got to see a side of Hawaii that I had not seen before.

    Its a shame the state killed such an amazing service, not to mention the many jobs that were lost and the economic benefits the ferry would have brought to Hawaii.

    The killing of the ferry just reinforced the states awful reputation as just another backwater banana republic that is not worth doing business in.

  7. Jasmine Fujiwara Says:

    Yes, bring the Super Ferry back so we have choices as to how we can travel inter island.

  8. michelledelrosariomaui Says:

    When former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann was running for Governor last election cycle, proposed returning an inter island ferry service to Hawai’i — the opposing candidates, including our current Governor Ige all chimed in — WE WILL TOO! Ok, it has been almost a year and I quite honestly cannot tell you what Governor Ige stands for or is doing for Hawai’i. I want to hear from our leader, be led and see implemented solutions. Wouldn’t it be nice on the 100 year anniversary to be able to ride an inter island ferry? Well, we have another 15 years. They way things are not moving — we will need them.

  9. Kalihi Boy Says:

    Funny. Everyone I spoke to spoke very highly of the super ferry and most were local people from outer islands who would have benefited from having their goods shipped to Oahu and Oahu goods shipped back to them more cheaply. If govt had done it right the do gooders wouldn’t have had much to protest about. Now I think govt should step up to the plate and support and even help fund a ferry which is very versatile and can help to keep transportation costs down. Hawn Air seems to have upped fares since the demise of Aloha Air and govt messed up in not supporting Aloha Air and providing more support to the Super Ferry.

  10. Ira Leitel Says:

    Lets find a way to ameliorate the environmental concerns and bring back the inter island ferry. It might even help to reduce or abate the ever increasing inter island airfare.

  11. Orin Jackson Says:

    We had cargo boats that went around each island also before road transport took over. We have a new green boat design called Go Boat Teck. See http://www.goboat.biz

  12. Brian Says:

    Aloha I too would like to see ferry service! Just need to address the Boat speed during Whale season & inter Island theft of resources like the river rocks taken from Maui by the pick up truck load, contamination from inter island cars & trucks) Coqui frogs!
    B

  13. Starboy Says:

    A ferry service is a no brainer that was stopped by people with a close the door behind you mentality. These are the same people that want unlimited access for themselves.

  14. tired of protests Says:

    I would support the inter island ferry if it was done right, e.g., a proper and open E.I.S. and not to forget those people from Oahu who went to Maui on the Super Ferry, tried to bring back all those river rocks, to build walls, those things cannot happen, same with the Opihi and other resources; it must be for personal consumption not for sale. There are many benefits of having an inter island ferry that it’s almost impossible to list them all. Like a choice between paying for a ridiculous inter island air fair, which by the way costs more than a trip to Vegas, and the trip Vegas includes a room and meals, less hustle and bustle, commerce, connectivity, and some. As for it not being economical feasible? It is feasible, the Molokai ferry supports those on Molokai, buy getting them to work and back each day. If it’s there they will use it. The Government should step in and make it work, run it like they do the bus services. A private company could do it also, but it would cost more. The sooner or later, only those who can afford it can use it, just like Hawaiian Air. I have to save for a year to take my family of four to visit my mom on Maui.

  15. richard fujihara Says:

    The people of Kauai had opposed and killed the Ferry.
    Their slogan: “Keep Kauai country”.

  16. John Pedersen Says:

    Excellent article – you have done a thorough job of describing what a lot of the rest of the world has for convenient inter-island travel/transport that, unfortunately, we do not have here in Hawaii. If we ever do have it, it will probably take a lot of money and time to undo the precedence set by the undoing of the Super Ferry. Here we sit with a massive Navy, massive number of huge cargo ships coming and going, huge passenger liners, a multitude of fishing boats and private/ commercial yachts – yet we let a few cowardly judges, politicians, swayed by a small group of chest-thumping people with nothing better to do with their time, sink the one hope we had for an inter-island ferry. How truly sad.

  17. Bruc Says:

    We rode the ferry twice to visit family. Never saw any close calls or problems with the whales. It was wonderful to relax, enjoy scenery and they upon arrival, not have to RENT a car, just bring our own.

  18. Sandy Says:

    As a new comer to Hawaii, I would love to have the Ferry available to travel from Island to Island. I wouldn’t need to leave HI for my vacations. I could put my hard earned money back into the Hawaiian Community. I do not know all of the logistics, environmental issue or politics behind the previous Ferry but if it is Economically advantages for the Owning Company and everyone involved then how could it not happen. It could bring families together more often and help the Hawaiian economy grow how could it not be a win/win.

  19. Paul Says:

    Traveled twice..once by car with family and once with motorcycle club. Wonderful times and supported Maui No Ka Oi.

  20. Walt Says:

    Duh! Where were you in 2009 when Hawaii did have the Superferry? Sadly, powerful special interests succeeded in killing it. It was state of the art and “whale friendly” and most locals loved it. The powerful rental car and airline companies felt threatened. They won and the rest of Hawaii lost.

    • John Pedersen Says:

      I took the Super Ferry, and brought my car, on its trip from Oahu to Maui — it was fantastic — until it could not return! – Myself and my two children were put up in a nice hotel. They flew them back in a couple of days. I waited, hoping I would return with my car. Didn’t happen. Stayed a week, then they flew me back too, and later got my car. Why I believed it was the environmentalists that killed it, knowing Hawaiian politics as it is, I don’t know- should have realized it was big money that killed it.

  21. John pedersen Says:

    For those of you who feel it needs to be profitable- look at your bus system here. Look at the insanity that is the building of the great train ride to Kapolei (which couldn’t possibly take more than a handful of cars off the H1 at any given trip–and there’s only enough track for one train at a time) – why does the ferry have to be profitable- just because it should be? – who thought those through?


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