Security measures on Molokai were at an all-time high Saturday as the Safari Explorer luxury tour yacht docked at Kaunakakai Harbor under the scrutiny of U.S. Coast Guard, a Maui County SWAT team, FBI, Department of Land and Natural Resources officers and the State of Hawaii Judicial Department security forces.
The DLNR and Coast Guard created a security zone around the harbor in response to protests of the 145-foot American Safari Cruises ship. On Nov. 26, a group of local protesters on surfboards and small vessels successfully blocked the Safari Explorer from coming to Molokai. Although an agreement had been reached between the protesters and ASC that would allow the boat to return, Governor Abercrombie’s office decided a security zone would still be needed.
A group of approximately 50 peaceful protesters were watched over by an equal number of law enforcement officials in the early morning hours. At 6:30 a.m. all vehicular traffic on wharf road was blocked. When the Safari Explorer docked at 7:30 a.m., it was strategically surrounded by jet skis, Zodiac boats and a coast guard cruiser. No protesters attempted to enter the water and no arrests were made.
Some protesters expressed anger toward the Safari Explorer. But a larger contingent, many of whom never protested the cruises, were upset by the excessive law enforcement presence.
“What next, marshall (sic) law?” asked one protest sign. “We are not terrorists” was written on a few signs. The feeling that Kaunakakai wharf was now under martial law seemed to resonate with the crowd.
“Molokai has always peacefully demonstrated,” shouted activist Hano Naehu through a bullhorn. “Yet you guys come here fully loaded, armed and ready to shoot, what’s up with that? What you gonna do, shoot our kids? Gonna shoot the kupuna? What’s next, martial law, huh?”
Protesters asked the visiting law enforcement how much this security zone action would cost taxpayers. Without a clear answer from the DLNR, many questioned if this was the best use of resources.
Could the Safari Explorer have come in to Kaunakakai Harbor with a simple coast guard sweep of the water instead of a security zone?
“We did look at all of our options,” responded U.S. Coast Guard Captain Joanna Nunan when asked this question. “We wanted to have an option where we would be able to take action if folks actually got in the water. So to be able to do that we need a bit more than just a sweep.”
After the Safari Explorer passengers — apparently a group of 28 Peruvians — drove through the crowd of protesters, they were met by a group of sign-waving supporters in Kuanakakai town. The group then spent the weekend enjoying Molokai’s beaches on Saturday and then hiking to Moa’ula Falls in Halawa Valley on Sunday.