Norwegian to be Hawaii's New Cruise Line

NCL becomes the only cruise line to operate in Hawaiian waters; ships to sail purely interisland itineraries

By: Michele Kayal

Norwegian Cruise Line plans to revive the Hawaii interisland cruise industry wiped out in the turmoil of the 2001 terrorist attacks under a new provision signed into law last week by President Bush.

NCL becomes the only line permitted to sail the islands, without touching down in a foreign port, under the 2003 Omnibus Appropriations Act.

NCL currently sails Hawaii with the Norwegian Star and Norwegian Wind, stopping in Fanning Island, which is about 1,200 miles south of Hawaii and is part of the Kiribati Republic.

The new provision, initiated by Hawaii’s U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, allows Norwegian to use three ships for only interisland cruises one existing vessel and two currently being built overseas. All will fly the U.S. flag.

Malaysian-owned NCL will also establish a U.S. subsidiary that pays U.S. taxes, and will hire an exclusively American crew for the ships.

Colin Veitch, NCL’s president and CEO, said that he expects to have a ship sailing pure interisland itineraries by early summer of 2004, with calls to Fanning Island.

“We will continue going to Fanning because our ambition is to grow our Hawaii business, not swap one itinerary for another,” he said. “We strongly feel we can support a 10- and 11-day itinerary, going to Fanning, probably on a year-round basis.”

But the two new ships and the reflagged vessel will be devoted to interisland sailings, he said, and may occasionally offer West Coast-Hawaii sailings as well.

NCL’s new ships were partially built at a Mississippi shipyard for American Classic Voyages, a U.S. firm that offered the only exclusively interisland itineraries around Hawaii, until it went bankrupt, shortly after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Norwegian purchased the ships, and is currently completing them in Germany. Opponents of the exemption said that it gives NCL an unfair competitive advantage in the Hawaii market.

“We hope to extend the benefits of this wonderful vacation to as many people as we can,” said Michael Crye, president of the International Council of Cruise Lines, which represents the 16 international cruise lines, including Norwegian, and which tried to amend the legislation to include other lines. Senator John McCain, R-Az, a longtime opponent of the provision, will likely hold hearings in the Senate Commerce Committee, which he chairs, an aide said, and has also asked for an investigation by the General Accounting Office. No timetable has yet been set for hearings.