HONOLULU (AP) — The $95 million Hawaii Superferry made its maiden run yesterday to Maui, loaded with people paying a discount fare of $5 for the first passenger-ferry service between the islands.
Legal problems threatened to beach the giant catamaran like one of the whales that environmentalists fear it will run over, so the company moved up the debut by two days.
More than 500 passengers and crew — and 150 cars — were aboard when the four-deck vessel pulled away from the dock to a chorus of cheers.
“It’s beautiful,” said Stephen Imamoto of Honolulu, who was making the three-hour trip with his wife and 6-year-old daughter. “I don’t like to fly. … You can’t beat the price.”
Mr. Imamoto said he wanted to try the first voyage to see if he gets seasick. Choppy water and strong wind between the islands have scuttled previous attempts at interisland ferry services with much smaller ships.
Inside the vessel, passengers browsed the gift shop, played cards and ordered breakfast as the ferry sailed past Aloha Tower.
Before yesterday, the only scheduled service between islands was one of the three major local airlines.
Superferry sold out its first voyage in 30 minutes Saturday, offering $5 one-way fares for passengers and the same for cars.
The launch, originally set for tomorrow, was moved up after the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday that the state should have required an environmental review before the Superferry started service. Three environmental groups have sued, concerned that the vessel could collide with humpback whales, spread invasive species and create long traffic delays.
The environmentalists’ attorney, Isaac Hall, said he will seek an injunction today to prevent the Superferry from doing business until environmental studies are completed.
Superferry supporters say it is being treated unfairly because other harbor users such as cruise ships didn’t have to go through extensive environmental reviews.
“These standards should apply to all players, not just the newest, the smallest and the most popular,” said David Cole, the chairman, president and chief executive officer of Maui Land & Pineapple Co., which invested $1 million in the ferry.
Superferry officials also say the ship’s water jet propulsion system means there are no exposed propellers to strike aquatic animals.
State transportation officials had allowed the Superferry to start service, noting that the Supreme Court didn’t explicitly say the ship couldn’t run.
However, environmentalists pointed out that state law prohibits projects from operating during formal environmental studies.
More than 19,000 people have signed up to take advantage of the $5 fare through Sept. 5. After that, round trips to Maui or Kauai, with taxes and a fuel surcharge, will cost more than $240 for one passenger and a car.