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Bad weather halts barge service to Lanai for a week

Regular scheduled sail set for Wednesday, businesses waiting

A stack of Young Brothers containers sits atop a barge in Kahului Harbor in July. Businesses on Lanai faced a shortage of produce and goods after weather delayed a regularly scheduled Young Brothers barge last Wednesday and a “recovery barge” from Honolulu to Lanai days later. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Pine Isle Market ran out of milk, and the Blue Ginger Cafe shut down its dinner service as a Young Brothers barge did not arrive as expected last week due to inclement weather and rough seas.

A “recovery barge” to make up for the lost trip last Wednesday also didn’t arrive on Lanai several days later as the weather forecast throughout the weekend indicated high surge and strong swells, Young Brothers said Monday.

Lanai’s regularly scheduled barge is set to leave Honolulu today and arrive at Kaumalapau Harbor Wednesday, the company said in an email. Ocean conditions permitting, it may schedule a stopover recovery sail for Sunday.

Chris Martin, director of terminal operations for Young Brothers, said the company is investing in a new mooring system for Lanai that will assist during bad weather. The pilot project is expected to be in place by fall and will be the first in the nation to allow for safe discharge and pickup of cargo in rough seas and inclement weather, Young Brothers said.

Businesses on Lanai dealing with a lack of produce and goods welcomed the news of the soon arriving barge.

Tanya Ashworth (from left, on truck), owner of Lanai Wai Juice Truck and husband, Scott Ashworth, smile as they participate in a drive-thru birthday party for Maysa Razali last year. Tanya Ashworth said she had a hard time finding produce in the local markets for her juice truck due to barge shipping issues last week. LANAI WAI JUICE TRUCK photo

“We are just happy to be getting our foods,” Blue Ginger co-owner Phoenix Dupree said Monday afternoon after hearing the barge would leave Honolulu today.

Dupree said he shut down the dinner service at the cafe Friday and Saturday to conserve food for the breakfast and lunch customers, which are the bigger crowd. He also closed on Monday to conserve supplies, as he didn’t want to have to shut down in the middle of his service.

“If you live on Lanai, you learn to have patience and learn how to go without things for a few days or a few weeks,” Dupree said.

Businesses that can pay for air freight are able to bring goods in if needed. However, Dupree said that $1,000 worth of goods would cost him $1,000 in air freight, an expense he cannot take on.

Dupree said he understands the costs for air freight and shipping to the rural community, and added that he wasn’t pointing the finger at Young Brothers. He supported the company’s 46 percent rate hike last year, saying if it wasn’t for the shipper, he couldn’t be in business. He added he gets good service from Young Brothers workers on Lanai.

At locally owned Pine Isle Market, one of two grocery stores on Lanai, milk ran out on Thursday and store officials worried about their produce spoiling while stuck on the barge from last week.

A manager said it wasn’t a dire situation for the customers, but it would be hard on the market if their produce expired. The milk set to be delivered this week also could have a shorter shelf life and a shorter selling time since the shipping was delayed, added the manager, who requested anonymity.

Even businesses that no longer do shipments via barge were impacted by the delays. Lanai Wai Juice Truck owner Tanya Ashworth said she shops at Pine Isle Market and Richard’s Market, owned by Pulama Lana’i, which was also scarce on some items.

When she heard there was no recovery barge coming last week, she ran out to look for produce.

“I got the last pineapple on the island,” she said Monday.

Ashworth also ran out of bananas for her acai bowls but ended up buying them from a local grower instead, which she prefers to do anyway.

Also scarce on the shelves were shallots, which Ashworth uses for a lilikoi dressing she sells.

“There was not a single shallot to be found on the island,” shes said. “I can’t make my dressing without any shallots.”

But like Dupree, Ashworth understood the issues with shipping and living on Lanai.

Ashworth used to order $500 worth of produce from Oahu via the barge, which cost her $55 to ship. But when the 46 percent shipping increase kicked in last year — with Young Brothers citing a projected $25 million in losses made worse by the pandemic — Ashworth said the change would’ve upped her bill to $90, which she couldn’t do.

However, she no longer needs to order the volume she once did. Prior to the pandemic, Ashworth used to take her juice truck to Dole Park and sell there. But after the pandemic brought that to a halt and took away the heavier sales in Dole Park, she no longer needs to order the volume she once did.

She now sells her juices, açaí bowls and other items from her home.

A spokeswoman for Pulama Lana’i, which manages and oversees operations on the island for majority landowner Larry Ellison, said the company did not have any information to share on how the shipping situation had impacted them.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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