By Wendy Osher
A group of about 40 protesters returned to Kaunakakai Harbor on Molokai on Saturday, January 21, 2012, as the Safari Explorer vessel resumed port calls to the island.
“An agreement had been worked out and things had been going quite nicely,” said Molokai resident Walter Ritte, “but this show of force has put everything in a tail spin,” he said of the increased enforcement presence.
Ritte was among the group that shared words of discontent today, calling the government response “unfortunate.”
A variety of signs held in the demonstration included the statements, “We’re not terrorists,” “Be pono to Molokai,” and, “We have the right to access our ocean ways.”
The vessel, owned by the American Safari Cruises company, temporarily suspended port calls to the island last month in response to community concerns and a water blockade; but service resumed today under a compromise agreement reached with protesters who have argued that there was a lack of a community process in decisions related to tourism and its affects on the island’s lifestyle and resources.
Supporters of the operation maintain that the 36-passenger Safari Explorer yacht supports local business, and helps to address the island’s historically high unemployment rate.
Company officials said the vessel resumed its visits to Molokai in accordance with the agreement reached with all parties.
“Unfortunately, a group of people chose not to abide by the agreement for a peaceful resumption of visits to the island, but many signs were also observed welcoming the yacht’s guests to Moloka’i,” said Sarah Scoltock, Director of Communications & Business Development at American Safari Cruises.
As the vessel returned, the state announced plans to implement a security zone one hour prior to the vessel’s harbor entries and departures.
Demonstrators expressed anger and resentment over additional enforcement presence saying it, “brought out many more protesters, and made things worse.”
Officials with the Maui Police Department said there were no reports of disorderly conduct and no arrests were made upon the ship’s arrival.
Company officials said the yacht docked without obstruction, and guests toured the island as planned during the day.
An evening pa’ina was also held celebrating one of the guest’s 70th birthday.
Ritte said, “The Aha Kiole o Molokai is still determined to keep it’s word, and will stand by it’s agreement to work with it’s community and present documents of its findings to the government after its meetings with the Molokai community.”
He further stated that, “The goal of the Aha Kiole is to bring a voice to its grass roots community that is fair and representative.”
Key supporters of the American Safari Cruise company say they plan to issue a statement regarding the resumption of service early next week.