Superferry barges could be a hard sell

By Paul Drewes
Published On: Jul 17 2012 11:02:58 PM HST
Updated On: Jul 18 2012 07:38:29 AM HST

The state is hoping to get money back after tens of millions of dollars lost when the Superferry went belly up.

HONOLULU -

Over three years ago, the Hawaii Superferry went belly up. The bankruptcy left the state on the hook for tens of millions of dollars in harbor improvements and docking barges.

While the state is hoping to get some of that money back, the state auditor said Hawaii's costs from the Superferry's failure will be going up.

Before Hawaii's long-line fishermen face the challenge of the open ocean, they face a challenge just getting out of Honolulu Harbor.

"The barges block our way. We have a hard time getting in and out," said Tom Mguyen, a long-line fisherman.

Three docking barges built for the Hawaii Superferry operations are moored at Pier 19, crowding other ships in a corner of the harbor. "We don't have room to park over here," added Mguyen.

The state isn't losing money by mooring the docking barges, because the harbor isn't full.  But occasionally, thousands of dollars are spent to move the docks around, to accommodate other ships. There are also costs to make sure the barges stay in place.

Those expenses comes on top of the state's initial write-down on $41 million in bonds, which covered the cost of the barges and harbor improvements for the Superferry.

But according to the state auditor, that number will rise. "By the time those bonds are paid off, it will probably come out to $63 million in costs to the state," said State Auditor Marion Higa.

The state could get some of that money back if the docking barges are sold.

"The Department of Transportation was planning to sell them, but they've haven't maintained them. They are rusting out there in the harbor," said Higa.

But according to DOT spokeswoman Caroline Sluyter, "Selling the barges was a priority for the Harbors Division. We had several interested parties in the docks".

A federal statute could sink a sizable return in the state's investment, however.

Because of the Jones Act, the barges could not be used for business in the United States -- without an exemption.  If local parties who are interested in the docks don't get the exemption, they could only buy the barges for scrap.

The state plans to hold an auction of the docking barges, but no date or details of that auction have been set.

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