Journal of Transportation Technologies, 2012, 2, 102-112 Published Online April 2012 (
The Failure of Fast Ferry Catamaran Operations in New
Zealand and Hawaii
Gui Lohmann1, Jakob Trischler2
1School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, Southern Cross University, Gold Coast, Australia
2Southern Cross Business School, Southern Cross University, Gold Coast, Australia
Received January 4, 2012; revised February 28, 2012; accepted March 14, 2012
Fast ferry catamarans have been in use for several decades. They possess the advantage of overcoming one of the major
deficiencies of water transportation: low speed. Although their operation has spread throughout different parts of the
world, an overall analysis of the implementation and failures of this technology remains underdeveloped in the transport
literature. This paper presents and compares two unsuccessful experiences of the use of fast ferry catamarans in New
Zealand and Hawaii. Although both attempts possess major differences in terms of their contexts, particularly regarding
competition, regulatory and environmental issues, some of the common lessons learned from both experiences can sig-
nificantly contribute to a better understanding of this water transport technology and the challenges involved in its op-
Keywords: Fast Ferry Catamaran Technology; Cook Strait Ferries; New Zealand; Hawaii Superferry
1. Introduction
Since the overall decline of long-distance passenger wa-
ter transport in the 1960s, when wide body jets sup-
planted ships as a means of carrying travelers across the
world, the development of fast ferries have been one of
the most important factors to boost passenger water
transport. Since their creation in Norway during the
1970s, resulting from the difficulties of land transport
due to the specific topography of the west coast of this
country [1], fast ferries have evolved into different
shapes and sizes and are currently used for different
purposes, including short-distance public transport in
urban areas, medium-haul trips carrying a combination of
passengers and freight transport, freight-only operation,
military operation, patrolling, fire rescue and pollution
control. The literature accounts for a number of ferry
operations in different parts of the world, including
Europe, Japan and New Zealand [2-4]. In addition, a
number of references have addressed the technologies
used by fast ferries, particularly the engineering of cer-
tain components and the structural designs that comprise
these ships [e.g. 5-7].
This paper aims to contribute to the literature on trans-
port technology by presenting two unsuccessful attempts
to introduce interisland fast ferry catamaran technology
in New Zealand and Hawaii. It uses mainly secondary
data from written media to chronologically reconstruct
the development and failure of these two cases. In the
New Zealand case, the NZ Maritime Index was used,
leading to the collection of information from industry
reports. This paper also benefited from a larger research
project addressing the two case studies, in which inter-
views with the then-existing ferry providers in New Zea-
land and Hawaii were conducted in 2005 and 2009, re-
spectively. Although only a few interviews were con-
ducted, they helped to provide a better understanding of
the information obtained from secondary data. A discus-
sion comparing both cases in terms of the major issues
responsible for why both fast ferry experiences in the
Pacific were unsuccessful is given. Although different in
many respects, including competition, length of opera-
tion of the fast ferry technology and political and policy
matters, these differences, as well as some similarities
between the two cases, are worth understanding for the
benefit of transport operators, as well as policy makers
and transport planners. This is particularly useful in the
case of Hawaii, as in many aspects the management is-
sues of the fast ferry service in New Zealand have been
previously presented in the literature [8,9]. Conclusions
are then drawn.
2. Fast Ferry Catamaran Technology
Speed is becoming a major factor in the choice of trans-
port in the modern world, and water transport has always
opyright © 2012 SciRes. JTTs
been among the slowest forms of transport, with the av-
erage speed of conventional ferries ranging between 15
and 18 knots [10]. With the advent of high-speed crafts,
water transport providers have had more options to com-
pete with other modes of transport, particularly airlines,
by providing faster and more expensive water transport
alternatives than conventional ferries. During the 1980s
and 1990s, fast ferry transport has been one of the fast-
est-growing sectors within the maritime transport sector
[11]. This is becoming particularly relevant in developed
countries due to the growing phenomenon of “money
rich-time poor” societies, which implies a high demand
for quicker transportation modes [12]. Reaching speeds
of up to 55 knots, fast ferries significantly reduce total
travel times in comparison to conventional vessels [13].
Currently, there is a wide range of high-speed crafts,
such as monohulls, small waterplane-area twin-hull
(SWATH) wave-piercing catamarans, hovercrafts, sur-
face-effect ships (SES) and hydrofoils [14]. Most of
these vessels are constructed from aluminum and pow-
ered by high-speed diesel engines and waterjets. To ad-
dress the increasing regulation concerning the environ-
ment, safety and comfort, fast ferry manufacturers have
developed many different hull and engine designs to
meet these requirements [15].
Bonafoux et al. [16] undertook a comparative study
between three key hull forms, namely a monohull, a
catamaran and a newly developed multihull version
called a “pentamaran”. To make the different vessel de-
signs comparable, it was assumed that all vessels had the
same payload capacity as well as the same fuel load and
engine. The catamaran was rated best in “motion sick-
ness incidence” (MSI) in beam seas. In other measure-
ments, such as wave wash, heave response, slamming
and head seas performance, the catamaran performance
was rated as the weakest, whereas the pentamaran hull
form showed very strong results [see also 6]. A further
disadvantage of the catamaran is related to the bridging
structures between the hulls, which are often considered
the most serious problem associated with the safety of
multihull vessels [17]. Another study, conducted by
Inoue and Kamruzzaman [18], reported that the size and
fineness of the bulb are significant factors in reducing the
motion response and the relative wave height under the
deck structure of multihull vessels.
Despite numerous criticisms and concerns, especially
regarding the seakeeping performance in moderate to
heavy seas, the catamaran hull form is still the preferable
option among most fast ferry operators [19]. The main
reason is the high level of passenger comfort, also stated
as low MSI, at higher speeds due to the transverse stabil-
ity of catamaran hull forms [20]. Further advantages, in
comparison to the monohull, include the larger deck area
and higher speed/fuel efficiency. In calm seas and at
travel speeds over 35 knots, the power requirements for a
catamaran are more than 30% lower than those for a
monohull craft [16]. Hence, catamarans have dominated
the fast ferry market, representing over 70% of all
high-speed ferries and possessing a competitive speed
range of up to 55 knots [1,11].
Fast ferry catamarans are currently in operation in
many parts of the world, with popular routes including
the Cross Channel Ferries between the UK and mainland
Europe, in Greece and those within Scandinavian coun-
tries. Nevertheless, fast ferry routes between England and
France have encountered major problems, mostly of the
financial or reliability nature. Outside Europe, some
popular routes are operated in California and the east
coast of the US, between Argentina and Uruguay, be-
tween Macau and the Hong Kong international airport, as
well as in Japan. This paper covers two geographical
areas in the Pacific that have only recently received at-
tention in the ferry transport literature [4,21,22].
3. The Fast Ferry Catamaran Experiences in
New Zealand and Hawaii
3.1. Cook Strait Ferries, New Zealand
The ferry operation across Cook Strait, between Wel-
lington and Picton (see Figure 1), dates from August
1962, and for more than thirty years, the incumbent ferry
company, The Interisland Line, only used conventional
roll-on roll-off vessels. This changed at the end of 1994,
when fast ferry technology was introduced, with a num-
ber of competitors challenging the incumbent company
throughout the following decade. All of these competi-
tors operated with only one vessel at a time, combining
small-passenger-only ferries and large-passenger and
vehicle catamarans (see details in Table 1). In addition to
its conventional ferry operation, the incumbent company
introduced The Lynx service, which, throughout its life
span of nearly ten years, made use of different
large-passenger and vehicle fast ferry catamaran vessels
(Condor 10, Condor Vitesse, Incat 057 and Incat 046).
At the beginning of 1994, three possible competitors
were planning to start a fast ferry service across Cook
Strait. Only one, Sea Shuttles NZ Ltd. (hereafter referred
to as Sea Shuttles), became a legitimate competitor. This
coincided with the decision by The Interisland Line to
introduce a fast ferry service with the vessel Condor 10.
Competition started during the month of December. The
Condor 10 made her debut as scheduled on 21 December
[23]. After ten frustrating days in dry-dock for repairs
and several route familiarization trips later, Albayzin’s
first inaugural trip was shortly followed by other issues,
including the fact that its timetable was too ambitious,
despite warnings that it had allowed insufficient time for
the turnaround at Wellington. In addition, after striking
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Figure 1. The cook strait ferry route.
Table 1. Details of the interisland line’s fast ferry competitors.
Company (period of operation) Characteristics of the vessel
Sea Shuttles (Dec 1994 - Mar 1995) Albayzin: 3.265 gross-tonnage, 450 passengers and 84 cars in up to 37 knots
North by South Ferries (Dec 1995 - May 1996) StraitRunner: passenger only 31-meter monohull ferry
Sea Cat Ferries (Feb 1998 - May 1999) Te Hukatai: 25 m, 208-gross-tonnage, able to carry 150 passengers in up to 28 knots
Fast Cat Ferries Ltd (May 1999 - Nov 2000) Incat 050: able to carry 775 passengers and 240 cars up to 38 knots
the wharf heavily at Picton while berthing on 29 De-
cember, it became evident that Albayzin’s hard-chine hull
shape lacked the necessary fendering and was very sus-
ceptible to wharf damage [24].
Meanwhile, by the beginning of January 1995, speed
restrictions within Wellington Harbor had been placed on
both fast ferries after concerns were expressed about the
effect of their wakes on other ships [25]. The new re-
strictions added an extra 15 minutes to the usual 1.5-hour
interisland crossing. In addition, protests were made by
Tory Channel (see Figure 1) residents about the adverse
effects of fast ferry wakes. Sea animals, such as paua and
kina, were being tossed on the shore to die; rocks were
being thrown onto beaches and erosion was eating away
at banks and boat sheds.
On 4 January 1995, following an incident at Picton
when Albayzin nearly grounded while berthing with three
engines shut down, the Maritime Safety Authority can-
celled Sea Shuttles’ operating certificate, citing serious
concerns about the ship’s safety and seaworthiness [24].
The Picton incident was the latest in a run of steering
problems experienced by the vessel, including two on 26
December 1994, when the ship made two involuntary
360-degree turns at high speed. Although the Albayzin
was considered smoother and more luxurious than Con-
dor 10, the crew had struggled with engine and berthing
difficulties. Albayzin’s last trip was on 14 February 1995
In its second season (1995-6), The Lynx faced a new
competitor, North by South Ferries, whose inaugural trip
was on 19 December 1995. At the beginning of 1996, the
Maritime Safety Authority decided to investigate North
by South because it was operating the StraitRunner dur-
ing heavy seas. Ferry sailings often proved to be unreli-
able because the StraitRunner’s limited operating pa-
rameters prevented it from sailing in seas higher than 2.5
meters. In February, a drop in passenger numbers forced
the company to revise its timetable and close its Wel-
lington office [27]. In the first days of May, North by
South went into receivership, ending its service across
Cook Strait [28].
The Lynx’s third summer season started on 13 De-
cember 1996 and ended on 2 April 1997. This was the
first season in which it ran without a competitor. On 6
December 1997, C ondor 10 arrived back in Wellington
for The Lynx’s fourth season of operation. As in previ-
ous years, the service ran from the beginning of Decem-
ber until Easter [29]. In February 1998, another operator,
Cook Strait Sea Cat Ferries, started the first year-round,
passenger-only, fast ferry service between Porirua and
Picton. Due to her small size, Te Hukatai was barred
from operating if the wave height exceeded three meters,
and it was subject to speed restrictions. According to
Pryce [30], she had problems a few days after her inau-
gural trip, mainly due to heavy rain, bad weather and
propeller repairs, until the month of May. In spite of
these issues, Te Hukatai became the first fast ferry to run
during the winter season, with only two return trips.
The year 1999 brought some changes to the Cook
Strait ferry scenario. For the first time, three fast ferries
were in operation, when Fast Cat Ferries started operat-
ing the Incat 050 on 10 May. With the arrival of Top Cat,
The Interisland Line announced that it would retain
Condor 10 for a limited winter service, operating the
vessel on weekends only [31]. By this time, there were
three fast ferry vessels (Te Hukatai, Inca t 050 and Con-
dor 10) running during the low season in addition to the
three conventional ferries. Altogether, the fast ferries
offered more than 3000 seats daily across Cook Strait,
for an average demand of about 400 passenger crossings
a day. As a result, Sea Cat Ferries ceased operations and
closed down service on 1 June 1999 [31].
In June 1999, however, Condor 10’s owners devised a
better deal and accepted a lease for the vessel, leaving
Incat 050 as the only fast ferry over the winter, with two
return trips daily. Consequently, Top Cat heralded the
introduction of fast freight during wintertime and soon
proved popular with freight operators and the travelling
public alike.
In July 2000, the Marlborough District Council passed
a bylaw halving the speed of fast ferries to 18 knots
through the Sounds because of concerns that their wakes
were damaging the environment and private property. As
a result, fast ferries would cruise Cook Strait in two
hours and fifteen minutes (half an hour longer than be-
fore), in comparison to the three-hour trip of a conven-
tional ferry. The advantages of a fast ferry journey be-
came less appealing, taking into account its more expen-
sive fare. These new speed restrictions imposed on the
fast ferries soon led to the end for Fast Cat Ferries [32].
During the years 2001-2002, The Interisland Line was,
once again, the only ferry operator. However, at the be-
ginning of 2003, Strait Shipping introduced a passenger
and vehicle service named Bluebridge, using a conven-
tional ferry called Santa Regina. The increase in compe-
tition from a more sustainable competitor operating a
conventional ferry, as well as the fact that the fare
charges were very similar to those of the conventional
ferries, in spite of the higher costs associated with the
operation of a fast ferry catamaran (see Table 2 ), brought
The Lynx service to an end in April 2005. Between 2005
and the beginning of 2011, no other attempts were made
to introduce a fast ferry across the Cook Strait, and the
two operators retained mainly the same ships as those
presented in Table 2, with the exception of The Lynx
service, which was discontinued, and of a second con-
ventional ferry, The Straitsman, added by Bluebridge in
December 2010.
3.2. The Short Life of the Hawaii Superferry
In Hawaii, interisland ferry transport started much later
than it did in New Zealand. It also had a much shorter
lifespan. In August 2007, the Hawaii Superferry started
passenger and vehicle transport between Honolulu, on
the island of Oahu, to Kahului Harbor on Maui (see Fig-
ure 2). Superferry contracted Austal USA, which built
the Alakai and, later, the Huakai, at a cost of US $80
million per vessel. The Alakai was the only vessel to ac-
tually operate, as the company ceased operation in March
2009, before the Huakai vessel was delivered. These
ships were hulled-hulled catamarans capable of trans-
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porting up to 866 passengers and 282 cars. In spite of the
state investment of US $46 million in harbor improve-
ments to accommodate the Superferry operations, in a
demonstration voyage to the island of Kauai, the Alakai
was met with large protests at Nāwiliwili Harbor, where
protestors expressed a number of concerns that can be
divided into social, environmental, traffic, and legal is-
sues. Table 3 provides a chronological summary of the
development of Hawaii Superferry.
Social impacts revolved around the potential of drugs
from Oahu entering the outer islands through the ferry
and the migration of homeless people between islands.
Outer island communities also expressed anxiety over the
possibility that this new mode of transportation would
Table 2. Ferry services comparison—Spring 2003 and Summer 2004.
Operator Strait Ship The Interisland Line
Service Bluebridge The Lynx The Interislander
Vessel Santa Regina The Cat Arahura Aratere
Two daily returns - up
to three during peak
season (Dec-Jan)
Low season: two daily
returns on weekends.
High season: two returns daily
Two to three daily returns
Two to three daily
returns except
Mondays in winter
Total journey time 3 hrs 20 min 2 hrs 15 min 3 hrs 3 hrs
Fares (NZ$): one way Standard adult 40;
car 110
Standard adult 30 - 55;
car 100 - 180
Standard adult 30 - 55;
car 100 - 180
Standard adult
30 - 55; car 100 - 180
Capacity 370 passengers and
150 cars
760 passengers and
175 cars
997 passengers and
126 cars
369 passengers and
130 cars
Facilities Café, TV lounge,
quite area
Video games, play room
for children, bar, café and
information counter
The same as The Lynx, plus movie
screening, booking facilities,
workstations and VIP Club Class
The same as Arahura
Figure 2. The superferry pre-existing and previously planned ferry routes in Hawaii.
Table 3. The Superferry (SF) timeline (source: various editions of Honolulu Advertiser and Star-Bulletin newspapers).
Date Description of Event
Stage 1: Before Operation
13 Jun 03 Three entrepreneurs start talking about developing Superferry (SF) in Hawaii.
23 Jan 04 Formed partnership with Austal, two ships to be built.
9 Mar 04 Pacific Whale Foundation protests introduction of SF.
June 04 First ship begins construction.
16 Nov 04 Public hearings on SF.
30 Sep 05 District judge dismissed environmental lawsuit against SF.
23 Aug 07 Supreme Court: DoT erred on Environment Impact Assessment (EIA).
Stage 2: During Operation
26 Aug 07 Inaugural voyage.
27 Aug 07 Restraining order on Kahului protests.
8 Oct 07 Judge says cannot resume service until EIA done.
24 Oct 07 Governor calls special session.
29 Oct 07 Senate approves bill that allows ferry to operate while EIA is prepared.
14 Nov 07 Injunction lifted banning ferry from sailing to Kahului.
14 Dec 07 Restarted service to Maui.
15 Jan 08 SF cancels second daily Maui trip.
Dec 08 Environmental groups go to court of appeals.
18 Mar 08 Public meetings in Maui blast SF on EIA.
8 Jan 09 The State DoT released a draft of the SF environmental report. No major concerns were identified.
21 Jan 09 SF states it followed procedures in avoiding a whale after rumors of collision spread.
27 Feb 09 SF cuts one-way fare prices to $39.
16 Mar 09 Hawaii Supreme Court says previous ruling unconstitutional, company lays off 236 employees.
19 Mar 09 The last trip of the Hawaii SF.
30 Mar 09 SF announces Alakai will head back to Austal for future employment.
30 May 09 SF files Chapter 11, declares bankruptcy.
Stage 3: After Operation
21 Aug 09 Austal reports net profit fell by 82% as it was forced to write down SF’s debt.
8 Sep 09 Governor criticized the lack of political leadership in supporting SF.
increase the number of tourists to the outer island,
straining the island’s capacity and affecting the local
ecosystem. The inclusion of vehicles on the ferry gener-
ated alarm over whether they would negatively affect
traffic on the neighboring islands. In August 2007, a
Maui judge ordered the Hawaii Department of Transpor-
tation (DoT) to implement traffic mitigation measures at
Kahului Harbor to accommodate the traffic expected
from ferry arrivals. However, after conducting a traffic
impact study, the DoT maintained that the ferry would
only add a marginal traffic increase in nearby streets [33].
The list of environmental issues was plentiful. By al-
lowing the inclusion of vehicles on the ferry, there were
concerns over the potential of transporting invasive spe-
cies, such as coqui frogs and fire ants, to the outer islands.
Although vehicles were inspected and washed prior to
boarding the ferry, residents questioned the effectiveness
of these preventive methods. The process of travelling
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. JTTs
between the islands also posed environmental risks, as
the ferry may discharge ballast water into the ocean, po-
tentially releasing many kinds of bacteria, plants, and
other life that could be harmful to the local ecosystem. In
addition, many of the proposed routes would traverse
through areas containing humpback whale habitats, with
concerns that the fast-moving ferries with sharp hulls
could threaten the whales.
These environmental concerns led to a number of legal
issues that plagued Superferry operations. In August
2007, the Hawaii Supreme Court stated that an environ-
mental impact assessment would be required on state-
funded harbor improvements, overturning the Maui Cir-
cuit Court’s decision in 2005. Despite this, the ferry pro-
ceeded to travel to Nāwiliwili ahead of schedule. Con-
tinuing protests in Kauai led to the suspension of service
to Nāwiliwili Harbor. In October 2007, the Maui Cir-
cuit Court demanded that the Superferry wait for an en-
vironmental impact assessment (EIA) to be completed
before resuming service. However, after a meeting be-
tween the Governor and the Hawaii State Senate, Super-
ferry was later allowed to resume service until the com-
pletion of the assessment [34]. By March 2009, the Ha-
waii State Supreme court found Superferry operations
prior to the completion of the environmental impact as-
sessment to be unconstitutional [35]. Following this an-
nouncement, Superferry terminated its work force and,
by May, declared bankruptcy.
4. Major Explanations for the Failures
4.1. Environmental Issues
With the growing market and operation of high-speed
vessels around the globe, environmental concerns are
rising, especially in regards to wave wash and emissions
due to significantly high fuel consumption [36]. The
massive growth in exhaust emissions per passenger-mile
and the great increase in external noise and waves gener-
ated by large high-speed ships are the major concerns of
environmental studies [37-39]. Additionally, environ-
mental impact studies on fast ferries have found that,
whereas hull shape have little effect on resistance or
wash, water depth [40] and the displacement/length ratio
have a significant effect. The displacement/length ratio
expresses the weight of a boat relative to its waterline
length and hence enables a comparison between all kinds
of vessels regardless of their size [41]. Particularly fast
ferries show a high ratio of propulsion power to vessel
displacement as it is a precondition for reaching high
speeds. This, together with near-critical and supercritical
speeds, leads to high loads on the coastal environment
[39]. This has been confirmed in a series of studies con-
ducted at Tallinn Bay, Estonia [37,39,42-44].
Thus, it comes as no surprise that, in New Zealand, the
fast ferry environmental issues started just after the fer-
ries began operation before Christmas 1994, with resi-
dents in Tory Channel noting that the wash produced by
Condor 10 and Albayzin was substantially more powerful
than the wash created by conventional ferries [45-47].
They became aware of numerous changes and effects
along the Tory Channel shorelines, i.e., substantial ero-
sion, the stranding and destruction of marine and bird life,
the washing up of large boulders onto the shore, the dis-
turbance of ancient burial grounds, potential damage to
moored boats and structures such as boat sheds and
ramps, and danger to individuals, particularly small chil-
dren [48]. Soon, some residents formed a local organiza-
tion called Save the Sounds—Stop the Wash (STS) that
applied for an interim enforcement order [49]. The ap-
plications of STS, the Te Atiawa Trust and the Minister
of Conservation were heard together before the Planning
Tribunal in March and April 1995 [48]. In early May, the
judge decided not to make an enforcement order restrict-
ing the operation of the fast ferries. The Tribunal was
unable to determine whether the effects were of a suffi-
ciently serious nature to merit a cessation order. More-
over, ferry service was considered of national importance
and should not have been the subject of a cessation order
on the basis of inconclusive and subjective evidence [50].
Finally, although the impact of the wash along the shore
was found to have been severe enough to alter the equi-
librium of the ecosystem, a new “ecological equilibrium”
would be established [48,51]. It was decided, however,
that the area would be monitored by scientists during the
winter when fast ferries were not running to compare
data with the next summer season [52,53]. On the other
side of the strait, however, speed restrictions within Wel-
lington Harbor had been placed on fast ferries. According
to Bell [25], they had to stop at the first leading light at
Ward Island to allow the pressure wave of their wakes to
dissipate before continuing their journeys.
In the case of New Zealand, environmental complaints
tended to surface each time that there was a change in
ferry operation, either through the introduction of a new
ship or a change in the sailing patterns. In 1986, for ex-
ample, the Marlborough Sounds Maritime Park Board
was concerned about the problem of erosion caused by
ferry wash. On this occasion, it was claimed that the fer-
ries were continuing to travel at up to 21 knots in the
Sounds and that their wash had undermined a lighthouse
in the area [54]. In January 2000, the issue of the fast
ferry wash was raised again. By this time, seven conven-
tional and fast ferries, Aratere, Arahura, Arahanga,
Condor Vitesse, Incat 050, Suilven and Straitsman1,
made a total of up to eighteen sailings daily from Picton
during the summer months [55]. For this reason, in July
2000, the Marlborough District Council decided to pass a
1The last two were operating as freight ferries.
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bylaw restricting the speed of fast ferries from 35 to 18
knots in the Sounds [56,57]. Hence, the fast ferries’ trip
time increased from one hour and forty-five minutes to
two hours and fifteen minutes. Moreover, the frequency
of their services changed from three to two round trips
per day.
In Hawaii, the discussion of environmental impacts,
among other types of negative influences caused by the
ferries, was of a broader nature and went beyond simply
the impact of the ferry wash. It involved other issues that
included concern over invasive species, particularly be-
cause of the interisland transport of vehicles by ferry, and
marine life endangerment, as the ferry route passed
through the Humpback Whale Marine Sanctuary. In part,
some of these concerns can be attributed to the fact that
the Superferry represented not only the introduction of
fast ferry catamaran technology in Hawaii but also the
beginning of ferry operation, particularly in terms of
transporting vehicles between islands. In New Zealand,
this was not a problem, as ferries had been in operation
since the 1960s. In Hawaii, issues related to the fast ferry
technology per se were mostly associated with threats to
whales and their reproductive environment.
In the case of the Superferry, environmental impacts
were the centre of the juridical discussion, and govern-
ment battles involving the state executive government,
the state legislature and the state Supreme Court ensued
regarding the need for an environmental impact assess-
ment to be performed before the Superferry could oper-
ate. The whole issue began earlier in 2004/5, when the
federal DoT approved a loan guarantee for the Superferry
to build its two vessels only if Hawaii State provided a
blanket clearance without any environmental impact
studies. The Hawaii State legislature then unanimously
passed a resolution exempting the Superferry from bu-
reaucratic obstacles. Later, this proved to be unconstitu-
4.2. Competition
In terms of competition, the Interisland Line has always
had a competitive advantage over newcomers [58]. First,
it has had a long association with the ferry service—over
forty years. Second, the company also has an equally
long-established network of booking offices and contacts
in New Zealand and abroad. A new operator starting
from scratch would find it difficult to build up such an
easily accessible nationwide booking service and would
certainly not have The Interisland Line’s deep knowledge
of what the market wants. Third, it can offer an unri-
valled frequency of service through its various services
and vessels. A rival firm starting off with just one ship
does not have that advantage.
In addition to these matters, most of The Interisland
Line’s fast ferry competitors had issues with their vessels,
either because of lack of experience in operating them or
a lack of understanding of the challenges of these opera-
tions across the Cook Strait (e.g., Sea Shuttles with the
Albayzin), or because they were operating small ferries
that were restricted from operating during high seas, as in
the cases of North by South Ferries and Sea Cat Ferries.
The latter struggled to cope with two large competitors,
The Interisland Line and Fast Cat Ferries, operating si-
multaneously during wintertime. Among The Interisland
Line’s previous competitors, however, Strait Shipping
was not only the first to have a more experienced back-
ground knowledge of the Cook Strait, as it had operated
freight ships for several years, but was also the first to
put a conventional ferry, rather than a fast ferry catama-
ran, into service.
According to an interview with a former SuperFerry
executive for this research, although the Superferry did
not have a direct competitor in Hawaii, it had to deal
with the intense lobbying that the traditional freight ship-
ping companies, such as Matson Navigation, Horizon
Lines and Young Brothers, put forth to financially sup-
port the “environmentally conscious”. The Superferry
provided a reliable, fast and convenient way for small
and medium enterprises, particularly those working in
food production, to transport their goods between islands
by simply loading their vans and taking them on-board
the ferries.
4.3. External Stakeholders and Government
In New Zealand and Hawaii, fast-ferry operators were
subjected to a series of external stakeholders and gov-
ernment agencies, which ultimately shaped their final
outcome. Generally, these organizations can be grouped
into two main groups:
Government agencies: In New Zealand, these in-
cluded the Maritime Safety Authority, the Marlbor-
ough District Council and the Minister of Conserva-
tion. In Hawaii, they included the State and Federal
Department of Transportation, the State Governor, the
State Supreme Court and the State Legislature;
Residents and organized groups of the civil society: In
New Zealand, they included the residents in Tory
Channel represented by the Save the Sounds—Stop
the Wash group and the Te Atiawa Trust, one of the
seven Maori tribes. In Hawaii, they included three
major groups located in Maui: the Sierra Club, Maui
Tomorrow and the Kahului Harbor Coalition.
In both places, residents and organized groups, usually
located at the less-developed, environmentally more
vulnerable, end of the ferry route, had a major role in
protesting against the impacts caused by the fast ferries
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. JTTs
or taking legal actions against its operation. In fact, in
Hawaii, protests were already made even before the be-
ginning of the Superferry operation (see Table 3). The
major difference between the two places occurred at the
government level. In New Zealand, government action
was taken through a step-by-step process, with the envi-
ronmental impact assessment conducted in the Marlbor-
ough Sounds while the ferries were in operation. It took
almost six years from the introduction of the fast ferry
catamaran technology for a speed restriction to be im-
plemented in the Marlborough Sounds. In Hawaii, the
political influence and support for the ferry were very
evident, up to a point where the State Supreme Court
considered some of the decisions unconstitutional.
Without going into the political reasons of why this hap-
pened, it was very clear that the State Governor person-
ally supported the ferry operation. Among other things,
she made the State DoT invest in harbor improvement
while bargaining with the legislature to approve a bill
exempting the Hawaii Superferry from requiring an en-
vironmental impact assessment. At the request of three
community groups from Maui, the State Supreme Court
found the situation unconstitutional, leading to the dis-
missal of the ferry company.
5. Conclusions
Despite the strong growth of fast ferry transport technol-
ogy during the 1990s and 2000s, examples of failed
transport ventures using this technology can be observed
in different parts of the world, such as British Columbia
(Canada), the English Channel, Hawaii and New Zealand;
the latter two are presented in this paper. Unfortunately,
the literature addressing these failures is very scarce.
Some of the issues associated with the two areas pre-
sented in this paper include environmental and safety
regulations, high acquisition and operating costs and
strong competition driving operators into bankruptcy or
forcing them to cease their operations. These experiences
provide some valuable lessons that have not been previ-
ously discussed in the academic literature.
First, it is appropriate to discuss the choice of tech-
nology used in the presented case studies. In New Zea-
land, several of The Interisland Line competitors strug-
gled with the novelty of operating a new technology
without previous experience across the Cook Strait. Sea
Shuttles, for example, had several issues with the Al-
bayzin until the Maritime Safety Authority cancelled its
certificate. North by South Ferries, on the other hand,
had major issues dealing with a much smaller vessel due
to its susceptibility to cancellations during heavy seas.
Second, while environmental issues were the com-
mon ground for the failure of fast ferry catamaran opera-
tion, the processes were very different in the two areas.
In New Zealand, regulatory agencies acted over a period
of six years until speed restrictions were in operation on
both sides of the ferry route. In Hawaii, the juridical bat-
tle was not over the terms of the conditions for the Su-
perferry to operate but over the need to conduct an EIA
before it could operate. In the end, some argued over
why an EIA was not conducted if this was all the Super-
ferry needed to operate. The usual response was, “Why
fund one if it was not originally required?” In addition,
the start-up company argued with the Governor that the
need to undertake an EIA would delay the project by
nine months and would divert investors to other opportu-
nities. The introduction of a bill exempting the Super-
ferry from an EIA created a major juridical precedent
against the US Constitution, as the bill was seen as fa-
voring one particular company. The argument imposed
by Superferry supporters was in terms of why a new
ferry operator would be required to conduct an EIA if the
existing shipping lines and cruise lines never had to. The
fragile juridical and executive government relationship in
Hawaii proved to play a critical role in the failure of the
Third, although much more evident in the case of New
Zealand, competition played a major role in the failure of
the various fast ferry competitors, as the incumbent, The
Interisland Line, had a well-established brand and book-
ing network on top of decades of experience operating
across the Cook Strait route. The only competitor that
has survived so far, Bluebridge, has not made use of the
fast ferry technology. The Hawaii Superferry did not
have direct competition, but maritime freight shipping
companies lobbied against it, particularly supporting or-
ganized groups of local residents to protest against the
Superferry and take legal action.
Finally, the dismissal of fast ferry operators had im-
plications for both the tourism and freight sectors. In
New Zealand, when the fast ferries were in operation
without any speed restrictions across the Tory Channel,
day trips out of Wellington constituted an important
market, particularly when packages were put in place for
visitors to explore the vineyards in the Marlborough re-
gion. An alternative route linking Wellington to Clifford
Bay was, for many years, considered a viable solution for
creating a more direct route to the South Island, but the
project was never implemented because it required huge
investments to develop a ferry port in Clifford Bay, as
well as the fact that the rough sea of the Cook Strait
could make the ferry trip less comfortable and increase
cancellations. In Hawaii, the Superferry provided a dif-
ferent experience for tourists by giving the opportunity to
sail and sightsee on the islands, which is usually not pos-
sible with interisland flights, and for tourists to take ve-
hicles on-board the ferries.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. JTTs
6. Acknowledgements
The authors are grateful for the useful and detailed com-
ments provided by the two anonymous referees.
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