Superferry lays off employees a day after Hawaii Supreme Court ruling

Paul Okamoto
Paul Okamoto

By Leland Kim - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - Hawaii Superferry officials announce Tuesday afternoon, they will lay off more than 200 employees starting Friday. This, after the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled against a law that allowed the Alakai to sail while an environmental review was going on.

The court said the move by Hawaii lawmakers and Gov. Linda Lingle was unconstitutional because it only benefited one company. The Superferry's history in Hawaii was marked by turbulent moments.

After starting service in summer of 2007, the Alakai had to stop service, after a Maui judge ruled the ship could not resume service while the state conducts an environmental review. That's when lawmakers crafted a law that would exempt the Superferry. It passed, and the ship began sailing again in December of 2007.

Environmental groups appealed, and the Hawaii Supreme Court handed its ruling Monday, which caused the Superferry to shut down service once again. Its abrupt shutdown not only impacts its 236 full-time, part-time and contracted employees, but those who rely on the Alakai to do business on neighbor islands.

Some companies have gotten used to using the Alakai to do business on Maui. Now, they're forced to make last minute changes, and last minute flight reservations to make sure their customers aren't left stranded.

The Alakai sits at Honolulu harbor, grounded once again after the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled against a law that allowed it to sail while an environmental review was going on. Now, Superferry employees have to look for new jobs.

"I feel for them because we're all trying to survive here," said Sherry Leiato, who lives in Moanalua Hills. "And this is tough times ."

It's also tough for small business owners who depend on the ship to go back and forth to Maui.

"Now we have to fly early in the morning, and come back at night," said Paul Okamoto, a small business owner. "It doesn't make any sense."

He runs a water filtration company which serves Maui and the Kona side of the Big Island. He says his life will be more difficult without the Superferry.

"I've gone about ten times round trips and I thought, 'God, now we got to fly the airlines, load up all the bags all the time and everything,'" said Okamoto. "It's such an inconvenience for me anyway."

He says many small business owners have come to rely on the ship to travel to Maui.

"A lot of contractor people that go and do jobs on the outer islands four or five days," said Okamoto. "And it's really convenient because they can take their trucks and equipment all in one trip because you can't always find what you want on the outer islands, right?"

And Okamoto worries about the impact this would have on the state economy, especially on small business owners.

"We're just hurting ourselves," he said. "We're just shooting ourselves in the foot just when you seem to be getting somewhere, we stop everything."

Stop to wait and see how this courtroom saga plays out this time around.

"We're all trying to survive here, so it's going to be tough for everyone, I guess," said Leiato.

The Alakai will sail one more time on Thursday to bring back stranded passengers and their vehicles to their respective home port. Superferry and state officials met Tuesday to discuss possible options before the Superferry announced its layoffs.