The Explorer cruise ship regularly visits Moloka‘i.
Image: Yvette Cardozo

On Jan. 9, Molokai protesters are scheduled to sign a historic “Molokai Community Agreement” with Seattle-based American Safari Cruises spelling out rules that will govern the weekly winter visits to Kaunakakai by the 36-passenger cruise yacht Explorer.

A little more than a year ago, the state of Hawaii forced Molokai to accept visits from the Explorer after protesters tried to blockade the Kaunakakai wharf, shouted at arriving passengers and harassed a tour van loaded with visitors from the ship, felling a tree across the highway and blocking the tour just shy of Halawa Valley.

Protesters were angry because American Safari had refused to talk to island leaders before beginning the Explorer’s visits to Molokai. “They’re supposed to ask first,” said leader Walter Ritte at the time.

The negotiations between American Safari CEO Dan Blanchard, Ritte and a few kupuna were facilitated by state Department of Land and Natural Resources Chair William Aila. In a phone interview, Aila commended the new decisionmaking ‘Aha Kiole process (“Weaving the Future on Molokai,” Jan. 25, 2012) used by islanders, who, he pointed out, have no local government. “The most important thing is not the cruise ship agreement,” he said, “but the journey getting to that agreement.”

According to the agreement, American Safari Cruises will contract for land tours and water activities with existing local vendors, dispose of off-island refuse elsewhere, create a special orientation video for passengers, donate to a community fund, limit the number of tour vans to three, and forbid tour stops at Iliiliopae heiau and Kaulukukui o Lanikaula, an ancient seaside kukui grove.

One newsworthy development is wording that suggests the Explorer might eventually be home-ported at Kaunakakai. This had been his original intent, Blanchard told the Weekly, but he had worried the island was “too sensitive.” Now, however, he cited as positives the ‘Aha Kiole process and islanders’ apparent consensus, after years of protest, to consider new options.

Blanchard said one difficulty with home porting will be working around the island’s essential barge service schedule at the cramped Kaunakakai wharf. “But I think it’s gonna happen,” he said.

In this scenario, Explorer passengers would fly in and out of Hoolehua airport and perhaps stay a few nights on the island before or after cruising on the Explorer. This should generate fresh economic activity on the island, where unemployment among the 7,000 residents was a reported 12.6 percent as of last May, compared with 6.3 percent statewide.

American Safari Cruises was recently rebranded as “Un-Cruise”; seven-night cruises including stops at Lanai, Maui and the Big Island start at $5,000 per passenger.