Aloha to the ‘Pride’

NCL withdraws cruise ship from the islands

By: Ana Figueroa

NCL Corporation has decided to withdraw its Pride of Hawaii cruise ship from the Hawaii market, at least on a temporary basis. The April 10 announcement came as a surprise to tourism officials in the Islands, as well as on the mainland. Pride of Hawaii’s last cruise will take place in January 2008. Launched in 2006, Pride of Hawaii was the third vessel in the NCL America fleet. Utilizing American-flagged ships and American crews, the NCL America vessels have offered a unique program of inter-island itineraries in Hawaii for the past three years.

In contrast, other major cruise lines operate foreign-flagged vessels that are required by maritime laws to visit a foreign port. They thus can’t replicate NCL’s Hawaii-only itineraries.

The interisland concept was considered an innovative, but risky, strategy for a major cruise line when first announced. And it now appears that the challenges of operating three American-flagged vessels (including Pride of Aloha and Pride of America) proved a bit more daunting than originally envisioned.

In an April 10 statement, the company noted: “NCL’s substantial 2006 losses, reported in February of this year, have been caused by downward pricing pressure in the Hawaii market following the addition of Pride of Hawaii to the fleet last summer, and the steep increase in the amount of foreign flag competition entering the Hawaii market from the West Coast.”

At the cruise industry conference in Ft. Lauderdale, cruise3sixty, held March 30-April 1, NCL Corporation president and CEO Colin Veitch acknowledged the unexpected obstacles the line had faced in training and retaining crew members for its NCL America vessels. But, he nonetheless gave no hint of the news to follow.

“We take this action with regret, but sure in the knowledge that a temporary retrenchment is the right thing to do for the good of the business and the good of Hawaii in the long run,” said Veitch in the April 10 statement. “We remain committed to building a strong U.S. Flag cruise business home ported in Hawaii, and we need to make sure that our other two ships, Pride of Aloha and Pride of America, are able to achieve acceptable profitability before we can confidently re-introduce Pride of Hawaii.”

In some ways, added Veitch, the company was a victim of its own success. “We have demonstrated that Hawaii is a highly attractive cruise destination, and Hawaii now has four times as much capacity serving it in 2007 as it did in 2004 when we started NCL America,” said Veitch. “We are now very hopeful that this latest measure will make the critical difference in ensuring the success of this important venture.”

Veitch added: “We continue to have a vision of a strong domestic cruise industry in Hawaii and firmly believe that the combination of steps we have now taken will result in a strong NCL America delivering the best cruise itinerary anywhere in the world with the very highest standard of service at sea.”

The Pride of Hawaii, meanwhile, will be renamed Norwegian Jade and redeployed in Europe as part of the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet. The ship will be re-flagged into the Bahamas registry and undergo a short wet dock in Honolulu in February 2008. Modifications will include the addition of a casino and new artwork on her hull, replacing the vibrantly colored floral lei that has been the ship’s trademark.

After a series of repositioning cruises, the newly-renamed ship will arrive in Barcelona to begin sailing an array of European itineraries to the Eastern and Western Mediterranean, Baltic, British Isles and the North Cape.

The line has offered a full refund to guests booked on Pride of Hawaii beyond its last sailing in January 2008.

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