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Hawaii Superferry plans another attempt to sail to Kauai

The Hawaii Superferry was going to make another attempt to sail to Kauai late Tuesday, after a protest in the water blocked it from docking.

Hawaii Superferry, the state's first car and passenger ferry, was turned away from Nawiliwili Harbor by some 65 protesters on surfboards, kayaks and canoes Monday night. They were supported by about 200 vocal protesters on shore.

U.S. Coast Guard vessels, including an 85-foot (26-meter) cutter, tried to clear the way for the ship. But after three hours, the $95 million (69.5 million EUR) catamaran turned around without docking and returned to Honolulu.

Kauai police arrested several protesters as they came to shore.

"We will sail on as scheduled," said John Garibaldi, Supeferry president, on Tuesday.

The ferry arrived in Honolulu about midnight and some passengers, who had paid a discounted $5 (3.66 EUR) for the voyage, were put in hotels and given vouchers for future travel.

The protests capped a turbulent day for Superferry officials who were ordered by a state judge earlier Monday to stay away from Maui's harbor. The ferry has scheduled daily runs to both Maui and Kauai.

Circuit Judge Joseph E. Cardoza agreed to temporarily block Hawaii Superferry from using Maui's Kahului Harbor, supporting a challenge by three environmentalist organizations.

The groups sought the temporary restraining order to halt the Superferry from using the harbor until an environmental assessment is conducted. The order does not affect ports on Oahu or Kauai.

The environmentalists argue that the ferry's plan to ply 400 miles (644 kilometers) of Hawaii waters each day endangers whales, threatens to spread invasive species and will worsen traffic and pollution.

Superferry officials have said the ship's water jet propulsion system means there are no exposed propellers to strike aquatic animals.

Cardoza wrote that the order was necessary, "to avoid immediate and irreparable injury," because the Superferry and the state Transportation of Department were moving forward despite a required environmental analysis.

The order remains in effect until Sept. 6. On Wednesday, the judge will hear arguments on a request for a preliminary injunction that would further delay the service.

Hawaii Superferry Inc. said the company was hopeful that it would prevail at the hearing Wednesday and resume operations to Maui on Thursday.

The Superferry started trips on Sunday, two days ahead of schedule, after the state Supreme Court ruled last week that the state should have required an environmental assessment before the ferry launched. State transportation officials, noting that the court didn't explicitly say the ship couldn't run, allowed the service to start.

In a statement, the company said it was disappointed, but will comply with the restraining order and not travel to Maui, but will continue operating between Oahu and Kauai.

"We intend to pursue all legal options that are available to us," the company said, adding it has complied with all state and federal environmental standards.

The Coast Guard, who earlier stated it would enforce a 100-yard (91-meter) security zone around the 350-foot (106.7-meter) catamaran, had little effect on moving away protesters in the water.

Coast Guard Lt. John Titchen said the first priority was to ensure the safety of the people in the water and on the vessel, so in that regard, "We consider the U.S. Coast Guard's involvement yesterday very successful. No one was hurt."

"Commerce was impeded by these protesters, but there are a number of other factors here at stake and those issues are better addressed by other parties involved - the Superferry and state," Titchen said.

State Sen. Gary Hooser demanded that ferry operations be halted until the environmental report is completed.

"The situation as it now stands is intolerable and fast approaching a point where serious injuries and further arrests are likely," Hooser said.

For decades, the only way to travel among the islands where an estimated 1.3 million people live and tens of thousands of tourists arrive each day was by the local airlines. Austal USA, which built the ferry in Mobile, Alabama, is also building a second scheduled to serve the Big Island starting in 2009.

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