Cruise ships under investigation after sailing illegally close to Hawaii’s protected coast

Cruise ships under investigation after sailing illegally close to Hawaii’s protected coast


Hawaii state officials are investigating two cruise ships that sailed illegally close to Kauai’s protected Na Pali Coastline, according to an emailed statement by the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) on Tuesday.

“Images of the ships have been circulating on social media, and vigilant kamaaina (locals) alerted the authorities to the issue,” the release said. 

In the statement, HTA said it is in contact with the cruise lines as other cruise operators who sail to Hawaii to “underscore the importance of compliance with all state and local regulations in our islands.”

The Hawaii State Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), which governs Hawaii’s nearshore waters, declined to comment on the ongoing investigation. 

DLNR and HTA did not confirm which cruise lines were sailing “much closer to Kauaʻi’s north shore than allowed by state regulations.” However, posts on social media show one of the ships to be the Celebrity Edge, which is operated by Celebrity Cruises and has the capacity to hold almost 3,000 passengers. 

“We have robust policies in place to maintain compliance with local regulations around the world,” a spokesperson for Celebrity’s parent company, Royal Caribbean Group, said in an emailed statement. “We will continue to assess our policies and take necessary steps to ensure we continue to operate in the most responsible manner possible.”

With striking cliffs, waterfalls and lush valleys, the Na Pali Coast is one of Hawaii’s iconic shorelines. This is partially due to its appearance in popular movies like, “King Kong,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and “Jurassic Park.” 

Home to endemic flora and fauna, the state park comprises over 3,500 protected acres. It is also a sacred place where the ancient Native Hawaiians once lived, and their heiaus (temples) and petroglyphs can still be found there today. 

The waters surrounding the coastline are also protected. Since 1988, state law prohibits commercial vessels with 50 or more passengers from operating “within the Na Pali Coast ocean waters.” These waters are defined as 3,000 feet seaward along the eastern boundary of Moloaa Bay and the southernmost boundary of the Na Pali Coast State Park.

DLNR’s Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement told Hawaii News Now it received “numerous reports” from residents who spotted the cruise ships sailing in “very shallow water” at approximately only 1,000 feet offshore last week. 

“Some of the shots that were taken from the air actually showed the sand being disturbed at the bottom, so all of these environmental impacts that it created was very upsetting to me,” Presley Wann, a Kauai resident, told Hawaii News Now. 

Kathleen Wong is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Hawaii. You can reach her at

Contributing: Nathan Diller, USA TODAY

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