Well this one is even a notch better than what Koohan just wrote. This article appears in the current New York Times and quotes from two well known leading industry analysts and from a current Austal-USA executive. Chris did an outstanding job with this article. BTW, the second vessel's name is the Huakai...shoulda been the Koa. Reposting with the author's permission:
A Hawaii Ferry Ends Its Choppy Ride
HONOLULU — The Hawaii Superferry made its final interisland voyage last week, capping a period marked by lawsuits, low ridership and suspicion that its ultimate purpose had more to do with military contracts than with connecting the Hawaiian islands.
On Monday, the State Supreme Court effectively grounded the vessel, the Alakai, when it struck down an act passed by the Legislature last year that exempted its operator, Hawaii Superferry Inc., from carrying out an environmental impact study. The company said it would not appeal the decision.
“We’re going to have to go out and find other employment for Alakai,” said the president of Hawaii Superferry, Thomas B. Fargo, a retired Navy admiral who once commanded American forces in the Pacific. “Certainly the military may very well want to lease this particular ship.”
The Marine Corps already leases a similar transport catamaran, the Westpac Express, in Okinawa, Japan.
A shipbuilding analyst in Florida, Tim Colton, said the company’s owner and chairman, John F. Lehman, a former Navy secretary, was well positioned to lease the Alakai and a just-finished sister ship to the Navy.
In its 19 months of sporadic operations, the Alakai — an $85 million, 350-foot aluminum catamaran that sliced through some of the world’s roughest seas at 40 miles per hour — is widely thought to have lost money for Hawaii Superferry. The passenger-vehicle ferry usually operated well below the 50 percent capacity that the company had designated as its break-even point. For much of the winter, it operated at about 25 percent capacity, according to figures released by the company.
Responding to a lawsuit filed by environmentalists, the State Supreme Court initially struck down a permit that the administration of Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican, had granted Hawaii Superferry to operate its boats without an environmental assessment. After that ruling, Ms. Lingle persuaded the Legislature to pass the act exempting the company from the requirement.
Why the company chose to risk operating without an environmental review, which would have taken the better part of a year, has been the matter of debate across the state, with Mr. Lehman’s background leading to speculation that Hawaii Superferry was primarily hoping to prove itself to the United States military.
Nearly two years ago, a former chief executive officer of Austal USA, an Alabama shipyard that built the Alakai, was quoted in a local weekly, Pacific Business News, as saying the ship was too big for its market of 1.3 million people.
“I just worry about getting enough business to cover costs because of the sheer size of it,” said the executive, Alan Lerchbacker.
Mr. Lerchbacker said that he had suggested Hawaii Superferry order a 230-foot vessel but that the company instead ordered two 350-foot models. The Alakai traveled between Oahu and Maui; the second ferry, the Huakai, was completed last week and had been scheduled to link Oahu and the Big Island.
State Representative Hermina M. Morita, a Democrat and chairwoman of the Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection, said she never thought either ferry would be profitable.
“You look at the players involved,” Ms. Morita said. “You have to question their motives.”
In November, Austal USA was awarded a contract to build up to 10 military versions of the ferry.
Austal’s Australian unit had built scores of giant aluminum catamarans used as fast ferries around the world, but the United States requires that all ships sold to its armed forces must be domestically built.
Austal USA, with a shipyard in Mobile, Ala., was created in 2001. “They have managed to become a major player in a very short time,” said Robert Button, a naval analyst with the RAND Corporation.
Austal USA’s vice president for external affairs, Bill Pfister, said that while the company had built several smaller ships in Mobile, the construction of the two Hawaii ferries had helped it develop the work force and demonstrate the construction processes to bid credibly for a similar military version.
The contract calls for one ship for the Army, with an option for four more for the Army and five for the Navy, for a total of $1.6 billion.
“Building the Superferry was very helpful in demonstrating that we can build these ships in the United States as well as Australia,” Mr. Pfister said.
At a news conference on Thursday, Admiral Fargo denied that Hawaii Superferry had any military agenda.
“We always get the question, ‘Was this designed as a military operation?’ ” he said. “That’s absolutely not true.
“We certainly wouldn’t have gone to the trouble to appoint her with 836 first-class seats, to spend huge sums of money to establish service here in Hawaii if that was our goal, which was unmistakably to provide a regular, reliable commercial ferry service in these islands.”
A version of this article appears in print on March 22, 2009, on page A18 of the New York edition.