Expeditions applies to build new Lanai ferry

Expeditions, which operates the only ferry service between the islands of Maui and Lanai, is seeking to build a new $2.7 million vessel that would replace one of its existing ferries.

Expeditions’ parent company, Hone Heke Corp., submitted an application to the state Public Utilities Commission this month to build and finance the new boat.

“Based on its experience in operating the ferry service for over 25 years, the company believes that a new vessel will be needed even before 2015, to meet the increased demand of travel to and from Lanai,” Hono Heke President Bill Caldwell wrote in the application.

Larry Ellison, who owns most of the island, has expressed plans to “completely overhaul” the Four Seasons Lana’i at Manele Bay; remodel the Four Seasons Lana’i, The Lodge at Koele; restore the old Club Lanai; build new residences and other projects, Caldwell said.

Expeditions already has been approached by construction companies about providing increased transportation for workers to Lanai, which may mean charters out of Maalaea Harbor would need to be “at least partially reinstated” to avoid putting more stress on Lahaina’s busy harbor, he said.

Ferry operations from Maalaea to Manele have been suspended since December 2008 but may resume as early as next year to accommodate the increased ridership, the application said.

Attempts to reach Caldwell by phone Monday were unsuccessful.

Mavrik Marine Inc. already has agreed to build the new aluminum ferry at its headquarters in La Conner, Wash. The new two-story vessel would be able to carry 149 passengers, the same number as the currently operating Expeditions 4 vessel it will replace.

The 149-passenger Expeditions 4, 108-passenger Expeditions 5 and 25-passenger Expeditions vessels are used to provide 70 scheduled voyages per week, with five round-trips between Lahaina and Manele harbors every day.

The operating schedule is not expected to change with the addition of a new vessel, the application said.

Expeditions 4 has been in service since 2003 and is “reaching the end of its productive life span,” the application said. The application asserts that a vessel has an expected life span of 10 years or less when operating in Hawaiian waters and that a replacement should be considered every 5 to 7 years.

If the new vessel is commissioned, Expeditions 4 “will be kept as a backup vessel until it is sold with the permission of the PUC,” the application said.

The new ferry would be about 74 by 28 feet and “able to meet updated (Americans with Disabilities Act) access requirements for wheelchairs, restrooms and thresholds that cannot currently be met by the other vessels in service.”

The new ferry would take an estimated 12 to 14 months to finish, according to the application.

The anticipated cost to construct the vessel would be approximately $2.7 million, which company officials said would be paid through the Capital Construction Fund and via a $2 million loan from Bank of Hawaii. The Capital Construction Fund program was created to assist owners and operators of U.S.-flagged vessels to construct, reconstruct or acquire vessels through federal income tax breaks, the U.S. Transportation Department Maritime Administration website said.

Hone Heke is one of four water carriers regulated by the PUC, with the others being cargo carriers Young Brothers and Pasha Hawaii Transport Lines and passenger and cargo carrier Sea Link of Hawaii.

“I ride the boat all the time, their level of safety and service is unsurpassed,” Lanai resident Alberta de Jetley said of Expeditions. “If they feel they need to replace their boat with a better one, so be it. I know safety is their first concern. Whenever passengers come on, we know we’re safe.”

De Jetley said many of the senior citizens on Lanai depend on a discounted ferry rate to travel to Maui for doctor appointments, picking up medications and shopping. She said senior residents can qualify for a senior citizen’s rate, $20 round trip, up to three times a month. An adult ferry ticket usually costs $60 a round trip.

“We depend on this (ferry service) one hundred percent. We get excellent service, the staff is wonderful,” de Jetley said. “They’re a part of our community.”

* Eileen Chao can be reached at echao@mauinews.com.