Superferry Pushes Full-Speed Ahead, Amid Legal Battle

Jeff Mikulina
Jeff Mikulina
Barry Fukunaga
Barry Fukunaga

HONOLULU (KHNL) - The Hawaii Superferry charges forward, moving its interisland maiden voyage up by two days.

The Superferry saga takes a strange twist, with what could be interpreted as its owners thumbing their noses at environmentalists and Hawaii's high court.

Instead of treading cautiously amid legal opposition, Hawaii Superferry is doing the exact opposite, starting service full-speed ahead.

Friday afternoon, Superferry announced it will launch service Sunday instead of Tuesday. President and CEO John Garibaldi would not say if the early start date had anything to do with Thursday's Supreme Court ruling. He also would not address threats of an injunction.

"I'll leave all the legal questions for the judges, but I think we're very confident right now that we'll be starting service on Sunday, and we'll continue forward," said Garibaldi.

On top of the early start, Superferry will also offer a $5 special fare for voyages booked between Sunday through September 5. Customers who have already bought tickets during that time frame are eligible for a refund and will get the discount fare.

When asked if travelers will get stuck on Sunday if an injunction goes through Monday, Garibaldi would only say he is confident service will remain on track.

And the Superferry is doing this with the full support of the state of Hawaii. The department of transportation said there are no legal violations for the Superferry to push forward, ahead of schedule on Sunday.

That's the big question right now: Is the Superferry violating state laws by moving up their launch date? The state says no, but environmental groups say yes. What this means is, it could take weeks or even months for this legal fog to clear up.

This 340-foot ship is at the center of a major legal battle. Late Thursday afternoon, the Hawaii Supreme Court required the Hawaii Superferry to complete an environmental assessment, reversing a lower court's decision.

"I think the Supreme Court's urgent decision like that really sends the signal that this is a serious issue and the Superferry was in violation of our environmental review law," said Jeff Mikulina, the director of the Hawaii Sierra Club.

But the state department of transportation says not so.

"The EA system does not prejudge," said Barry Fukunaga, interim director of transportation. it allows us to go through a deliberate process of evaluation, and subsequently come up with a finding."

As the environmental assessment goes as planned, so will the Superferry's launch, ahead of schedule on Sunday.

"We have no intention of denying them access at this point because the court did not specifically specify that they could not commence operations," said Fukunaga. "So, until and unless that is identified, we certainly wouldn't be doing any action against them."

"Since they tried to get around the law, we're now in the situation where there are no mitigation measures, and they want go ahead," said Isaac Hall, the environmental groups' attorney, via a telephone interview. "And I don't think that's responsible. Given the court's ruling, I don't think it's responsible on their part to simply plow ahead.

Plowing ahead, and facing some rough legal waters.

Hall plans to file an injunction first thing Monday morning. The Sierra Club characterizes the latest move by the Superferry as offensive.