NCL to Suspend Cruise Ship Service to Hawai‘i

March 13, 2020, 12:58 PM HST (Updated March 13, 2020, 1:14 PM)
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Councilmember Rebecca Villegas.

The Pride of America, a weekly fixture of Hawai‘i’s Pacific horizon, will be noticeably absent from both its Big Island ports for the foreseeable future.

Norwegian Cruise Lines is docking its Hawai‘i vessel, along with the rest of its cruise ships, until at least April 10, 2020, due to concerns surrounding the COVID-19 global pandemic. While NCL has yet to make a public announcement to that effect, the message was relayed to employees via an internal memo — one of whom confirmed the veracity of the shutdown to Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas Friday.

“(An employee) shared with me that Norwegian Cruise Lines had an internal message that had just gone out saying they were canceling all cruises everywhere until April 10, at which point they would reassess,” Villegas told Big Island Now late Friday morning. “(The employee) said there would be a public announcement coming and felt confident to share that with me to calm some of our fears and concerns.”

NCL had not responded to a request for comment on the story as of 1 p.m. Friday.

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NCL’s Pride of America, with a capacity of nearly 2,200 passengers, ports off Hilo every Tuesday and Kailua-Kona each Wednesday. It also ports off Kahalui, Maui on Mondays and Kaua‘i harbors Thursday and Friday. It boards and disembarks off the coast of O‘ahu.

The last time the Pride of America was absent from Big Island ports was May through June of 2018, in response to fears regarding the eruption of Kīluea Volcano and the vog that blanketed West Hawai‘i skies as a result, resulting in poor air quality.

Friday’s decision means another economic blow to the tourism industry, the state’s largest source of revenue, and the latest domino to fall on the way to what experts believe will be a likely recession. Hawai‘i Visitors Bureau Executive Director Ross Birch projected in 2018 that each time the Pride of America skips port in Kailua-Kona, it equates to $175,000 in lost tourism revenue.

Villegas said she initially reached out to NCL of her own volition to procure a phone number that concerned Big Island residents could call in an effort to put pressure on the company to stop porting cruise ships across Hawai‘i.

NCL’s announcement that it plans to do just that will follow Princess Cruises, Disney and Viking, which announced the temporary shutdown of their businesses Thursday, and Royal Caribbean, which announced Friday it was docking its vessels starting Saturday night. Royal Caribbean and Princess Cruises each plan to suspend service for 60 days, according to multiple reports.

Hawai‘i Department of Transportation officials have responded to calls from residents and politicians to shut cruise ships out of island ports by explaining the state doesn’t the authority to do so. Instead, HDOT explained, it would take a federal directive to temporarily shutter the industry.

In lieu of any such directive, the companies have taken it upon themselves to act responsibly as industries around the world take action to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“It’s very frustrating to otherwise consider that it takes essentially an act of Congress to (do this),” Villegas said.

The Kona Councilwoman hasn’t been alone in her frustration and fear over a lack of action.

State Representatives Amy Perruso and Tina Wildberger on Thursday joined Lieutenant Governor Josh Green and Minority Leader Gene Ward in a bipartisan call for an immediate 60-day moratorium on cruise ships docking in Hawai‘i harbors.

“For once, Hawai‘i’s remote geographic location can be a lifesaving benefit rather than a disadvantage, but only if we take bold, immediate actions to protect our people now,” Wildberger said.

Max Dible
Max Dible is a reporter for Big Island Now. He will also serve in a news capacity for Pacific Media Group's Hawai‘i Island family of radio stations. He formerly worked as a community reporter for West Hawai‘i Today in Kailua-Kona from 2016 to 2019. Before that, he was a sports editor, sports reporter and radio talk show personality with the Iowa State Daily and KURE 88.5 FM, respectively, in Ames, Iowa. He's won several regional and national journalism awards, at both the collegiate and professional levels, for breaking news, long-form feature writing and his work as a sports columnist.
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