Pearl Harbour ban turns into boon for NZ sailors

FULL AHEAD: The navy's frigate Te Kaha, which is in Hawaii along with the Auxillary Support Vessel Endeavour.
FULL AHEAD: The navy's frigate Te Kaha, which is in Hawaii along with the Auxillary Support Vessel Endeavour.

A ban on New Zealand ships berthing in the big American base at Pearl Harbour has turned into a boon for Kiwi sailors and the nightclubs in downtown Honolulu.

The frigate HMNZS Te Kaha and tanker HMNZS Endeavour are taking part in Rimpac, the world's biggest military operation, but while old enemies Japan and Russia are allowed into Pearl Harbour, the New Zealand ships have been sent to Aloha Tower - deep in the commercial heart of Honolulu.

They are happily close to Hooters and a place called Bikini Cantina. The exile to Honolulu is in return for New Zealand's ban on nuclear warships.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser in a story this weekend, and reprinted in the forces paper Stars and Stripes, notes that Nikol DeWoody, a bartender for Bikini Cantina received nine marriage proposals - all from New Zealand navy sailors, all on the same night.

"When they first came (to the bar), I looked up and there were like 100 of them," DeWoody said. "It got busy. And they are nice dudes," she told the newspaper.

DeWoody called the New Zealand sailors "very respectful."

Bikini Cantina customer Marc Anthony said the Kiwis are better off at Aloha Tower.

"I think they are the happiest guys in RIMPAC - they are not stuck in Pearl Harbour," he said.

"They've got Chinatown right here, they've got Waikiki, instead of spending 60 bucks for a round-trip (cab ride)."

Hooters has received many New Zealand sailors.

Gordon Biersch said it has experienced a 25 percent increase in business.

"We're certainly happy that they are berthed here at Aloha Tower. Just a window of opportunity for additional business," one business head said

The Star-Advertiser says the State of Hawaii is waiving entry and dock fees for the New Zealand ships and a US Navy frigate to stay at Aloha Tower.

For a vessel about the size of the Endeavour, the entry fee would be $268 plus a dock fee of $618 per day.

A Tokyo datelined blog on Time's site says the New Zealanders are just a short walk from shopping, restaurants, bars and the kind of night-time, personal-service entertainment long favoured by sailors.

The beaches and discos of Waikiki are a quick bus ride away.
Pearl Harbour was surrounded by guards and barbed wire.

"Since there are not enough piers to go around, many visiting vessels will tie up side-by-side; no privacy, lots of gangplanks. Water-buses and shuttles are needed to navigate the sprawling facility (Hey, is that a golf course?), and it takes an hour or more to fight traffic to reach town," the blogger says.

Rob Ayson, director of the Centre for Strategic Studies at Victoria University, in Wellington, says it's all much ado about nothing.

"Everyone's missing the big story, which is that New Zealanders are participating in this exercise for the first time in a generation," Ayson told the blog. "You can look at the limitations that still exist on New Zealand-U.S. port access, or you can say, 'They're finding a way to cooperate more closely.'"

Ayson says that despite the berthing flap, relations between the two countries remain solid. But he says the Kiwis' location could pose a problem for other Rimpac participants when they venture downtown.

"By the time everyone else gets there," says Ayson, "the New Zealanders will have drunk all the beer."