KAUNAKAKAI, Molokai (HawaiiNewsNow) - Dozens of people staged a peaceful protest at Kaunakakai Harbor Saturday as a cruise yacht resumed its controversial port calls to Molokai.
American Safari Cruises suspended its trips to the Friendly Isle two months ago after protesters blocked the vessel from entering the harbor.
When the Safari Explorer pulled into Kaunakakai at around 6 a.m. Saturday, some 30 to 40 protesters, waving signs, were there to greet its 30 passengers. But there also were dozens of personnel from the Coast Guard, the state and Maui County, keeping protesters from blocking the yacht.
"We probably had about 15 officers there," said William Aila, Jr., chairman of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. "There was about another ten sheriffs, there was about eight or nine personnel from the attorney general's office, and Coast Guard personnel -- I would say there was probably around 30."
The Coast Guard had established a security zone in Kaunakakai harbor, which was enforced an hour before the ship arrived.
"No one went into the water to obstruct the ship from coming in because of this sort of agreement that we have with the community, so I would say that today was a rousing success," Aila said.
"The Molokai Dispatch" and a spokeswoman for the DLNR said the protesters were allowed to gather on the pier and briefly block the vans that carried the Safari Explorer passengers to their day trip around the Friendly Isle.
Both the Coast Guard and the DLNR said the protests were relatively peaceful and that there were no arrests.
The Coast Guard had met with Molokai residents earlier this week, outlining its security plans for the yacht. But Molokai resident and activist Walter Ritte said the amount of security that came with it may have made things worse.
"The community is up in arms, not so much about the cruise ships coming because we're working that out, but about, you know, forcing all of these people here with guns on Molokai and telling us how to behave," said Ritte. "Everybody felt like they were being treated like they were terrorists."
"I just want to say that half the protesters were there because they felt that our presence there was a bit overwhelming," Aila said. "So in response to that we're considering a more measured response the next time that the ship arrives."
Aila said there will likely be fewer personnel present to enforce the harbor security zone Sunday, when the Safari Explorer is scheduled to depart. Authorities earlier said the rules for the security zone could be suspended in May if there are no problems.
Earlier story: Security zone for cruise boat's return to Molokai
Earlier story: Framework reached on Molokai cruise discussions