Fanning Island Setbacks

January 28, 2002

Fanning Island, a port on Norwegian Star’s Hawaiian itinerary and surely one of the most unusual existing in cruise-dom, is experiencing some setbacks. Fanning Island is on the itinerary because of the Jones Act, a U.S. law that requires foreign-flagged cruise ships sailing to and from U.S. ports to break the journey with one call at a non-American stop. To accommodate that caveat, Norwegian, which wanted to offer Honolulu-based voyages, glommed onto Fanning Island (part of the Republic of Kiribati) because it was the closest “country.” How close? According to NCL, it’s 1,000 miles south of Hawaii and at 24 knots per hour it takes Norwegian Star some 40 hours -- each way. There, the ship calls at what is virtually a private island as there are no attractions, for six hours before heading back to Hawaii.
But as with Kona, Fanning Island is a tendering operation and similarly rough seas have caused the ship to cancel visits there. So...back to the Jones Act, it’s logical to wonder: if Norwegian Star doesn’t actually spend the day at Fanning Island is it breaking the law? According to NCL -- as well as cruise line executives at other lines -- the answer is no.
Says spokeswoman Mirta Carreras, “Norwegian Star has attempted to stop every week in Fanning Island in compliance with the Passenger Services Act. However, the safety of our passengers is our number one concern. If it is unsafe to tender our passengers to Fanning Island due to inclement weather, the ship will be cleared by local officials.
“As you know," she adds, "the call is scheduled to be a proper port of call with passengers enjoying a day on the island. However, legally all you need to do is have the ship itself cleared in the foreign port.”
In fact, Norwegian isn’t alone in clearing ships on the prerequisite foreign stop without disembarking passengers. One of the most common Hawaiian itineraries is a San Diego-to-Hawaii trip, an all U.S. itinerary except for one stop in Ensenada, Mexico usually very late at night and for just an hour. That, too, is merely a technical clearance.