It seems there’s a bit more news on efforts that are now under way to adapt the second Superferry, now under construction at the Austal USA shipyard in Alabama, for military uses.
First, we have The Advertiser reporting today — in a follow-up of the news posted yesterday on Larry Geller’s Disappeared News, for which he is given credit — that Hawaii Superferry paid for the installation of the ramps itself.
However, the company is still hopeful that the $210,000 it spent in lobbying last summer will pay off and the U.S. Department of Defense will ultimately pick up the tab under “a program that helps pay for militarily useful improvements to commercial vessels in exchange for use of the vessels by the military in emergencies."
The article has Thomas Fargo, Superferry's chief executive officer, saying “that the modification will help the catamaran operate during winter swells at Kahului Harbor on Maui and at an earthquake-damaged pier at Kawaihae Harbor on the Big Island.”
However, in an email sent to a Kauai resident today, Advertiser reporter Derrick DePledge writes: “Interesting, though, that HSF and harbors are discussing whether the new ramp can even be used on Maui. It might only be good for the Big Island or other harbors not currently on the route.”
In other words, Kauai? Or harbors completely out of the state? Maui Superferry follower Dick Mayer wonders if the new ferry is being outfitted with ramps “so that the Company will be able to transfer the vessel to other locations which do not have the specially designed (Hawaii gov't paid-for) barges at each port. It is called an ‘Exit Strategy’ !”
And then today, we have an article published in the Alabama Press-Register that reiterates that Austal has submitted its final bid for a contract to build the 10 Joint High Speed Vessels the Navy is seeking. The article quotes Bob Browning, Austal's chief executive, as saying the firm is "perfectly positioned" to build the vessels. It reports:
"We have the trained workforce ready today, we have the facilities available today to support construction, and we have already built a vessel of very similar design right here in Mobile," he said, referring the Hawaii Superferry.
Now isn’t that a coincidence.
The article goes on to say:
Part of a $190-million, two-ship contract, the vessel is being built for Hawaii Superferry Inc. The first superferry is in service in Hawaii, but the company's plan to run an inter-island ferry service has been plagued by environmental protests, and company officials could be positioning the vessel for sale to a third party.
Browning said he met recently with Thomas Fargo, a retired U.S. Navy admiral who is Hawaii Superferry's chief executive, and there was "no mention" of plans to sell the second vessel.
"However, the national defense features we are adding to HSF 2 would enable the vessel to be chartered to the military if they so desired," Browning said.
Now I don’t mind if HSF 2, or even the Alakai, for that matter, is made into a military ship, although it bothers me that the HSF spent so much money lobbying in an effort to get us taxpayers to pick up the tab. But I’m a fan of full disclosure, and when Hawaii Superferry came to town, asking for all sorts of state help and public acceptance for what is proving to be a rather dubious commercial enterprise, I think they should have been totally up front about their military aspirations.
Then we all could have weighed the issue more carefully, and asked such probing questions as whether HSF really is committed to the state for the long haul, or if we’ll be left holding the bag for those expensive harbor improvements, tugboat operations and litigation — and have no alternative form of transportation to show for it.
And then there’s still the unanswered question of why Gov. Lingle went out on such a limb to ensure the Superferry sailed. Surely it wasn’t just the replica of the Alakai she received from top Superferry investor John Lehman, who bequeathed a similar gift on that other key ferry skid-greaser, House Speaker Calvin Say, within months of the special legislative session being convened. (Sen. President Colleen Hanbusa, on the other hand, got only a framed photograph.)
But slow by slow, it seems the truth is being revealed, and perhaps one day the full tale will be told. Somehow, though, I don't think it will be The Advertiser that breaks the story.