HONOLULU (PINA, Jan. 25) - Lucrative cruise line stopovers at Tabuaeran island in Kiribati could be affected by American law changes now before Congress, Pacific Business News reported.

The Norwegian Cruise Line ships go to Tabuaeran from Honolulu because American law bars foreign-flagged cruise ships from undertaking cruises that go only to American ports.

But that could change if Congress passes a law designed to create local jobs and allow Hawaii-only cruises, Pacific Business News reported.

Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-HI., said the bill to let foreign-flagged vessels switch to United States flagging to cruise Hawaii’s islands has already cleared the Senate. The ships would be able to do this if they hire local crew and meet other conditions.

Norwegian Cruise Line, which has built a school on Tabuaeran, says it does not intend to stop sailing to the island, Pacific Business News reported.

But the measure appears to make it possible to sail there less often or to create new cruises that stay in the Hawaii islands, Pacific Business News said.

On Tabuaeran, thriving businesses have developed selling handicrafts to the cruise liner passengers and providing entertainment.

Tabuaeran, known as Fanning Island in colonial times, is part of the Northern Line Islands, which are south of Hawaii in Kiribati’s east.

The atoll, with a land area of 34 square kilometers, has a large lagoon. It was once important as a link on the trans-Pacific cable previously operated by Britain’s Cable and Wireless company.

Existing American law was designed to nurture an American cruise industry, but there isn’t any to speak of any more, Pacific Business News said.

The last important U.S.-flagged player, American Classic Voyages, had two ships sailing the Hawaiian Islands. But it collapsed into bankruptcy after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

Norwegian Cruise Line moved into the void with the brand new Norwegian Star. It has done so well that a second ship, the Norwegian Wind, joins it for about half of the year, Pacific Business News said.

But under current law, Norwegian Cruise Line cannot sail Hawaiian waters exclusively. So its cruises add the trip south to Tabuaeran.

January 27, 2003

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