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Posted on: Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Two ferries to be built for interisland service

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Transportation Writer

A Hawai'i firm planning to start an interisland ferry service within three years has signed an agreement to buy two newly built 900-passenger, 280-vehicle vessels for the service, officials said yesterday.

Hawaii Superferry has agreed to buy two high-speed ferries similar to this one for passenger and freight service in the Islands.

Hawaii Superferry

Hawaii Superferry said yesterday it hopes to have the first of the four-story high, 340-foot-long catamarans carrying passengers, vehicles and freight between O'ahu, Kaua'i, Maui and the Big Island beginning in 2006.

The high-speed ferries, costing about $75 million each, would be built in Alabama in a joint venture with an Australian firm that specializes in designing and constructing ocean-going vessels that have enough speed and stability to ensure passenger comfort, Superferry officials said.

If successful, the plan has the potential to revolutionize interisland travel, providing a new way to move cargo from one island to another and offering tourists and local residents a chance to island hop without getting on an airplane or renting a car.

Like other ferries operating around the world, the company would include two classes of passenger service, airline-style seating, restaurants, retail shops, entertainment, a video arcade and a play area for children, said John Garibaldi, a partner in Hawaii Superferry. "The best way to describe it is like a cruise-line type atmosphere," he said.

Several companies have made efforts to start interisland ferry service in the past but been hampered by a lack of adequate port facilities and rough open-water passages that can make the travel uncomfortable.

Changes in ocean-going ferry technology in the past decade, however, make the success of the new venture more likely, Hawaii Superferry officials said.

"Our specialized catamarans combine a proven hull form with an advanced computerized ride control system, ensuring a high level of passenger comfort," said Tim Dick, Hawaii Superferry founder and chairman. "Bringing this capability to Hawai'i will boost interisland travel by residents and visitors alike at half the cost of air transportation."

The Hawai'i ships will be specifically designed and built for Hawai'i sea conditions, travel at speeds of up to 45 mph and be able to make the trip from Honolulu to Maui or Kaua'i in three hours.

The company plans to use a federal maritime loan guarantee program to help pay for the ships, Garibaldi said. The first new vessel is expected to be finished in 2006; the second should arrive in 2008.

Hawaii Superferry has quietly been laying the groundwork for an interisland ferry system for the past three years and went public with its plan last year. It is a Honolulu-based company formed by several veterans of airline, maritime and other businesses in the state.

Similar ferries developed over the past 15 years are in use in the English Channel, the Canary Islands, New Zealand, and the Mediterranean and Baltic seas, said officials of Austal, the Australian company that developed the new technology.

The most likely base for an interisland ferry system in Honolulu would be Pier 19, where the state last year completed construction of a $5 million new terminal that offers ticketing counters, passenger waiting and baggage handling areas. The company is still negotiating with the state for landing facilities on other islands.

Reach Mike Leidemann at 525-5460 or mleidemann@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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