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Protesters block cruise ship in Hawaii

A small cruise ship scheduled to visit the Hawaiian island of Molokai over the weekend was blocked by protesters worried about its impact.

American Safari Cruises’ 36-passenger Safari Explorer canceled a stop at Molokai on Saturday after encountering protesters on boats and surfboards while approaching the island’s Kaunakakai Harbor. The vessel instead spent the day off the coast of the Hawaiian island of Lanai. It returned to Molokai on Sunday and was able to dock without incident.

“The safety of all involved is always the top priority,” American Safari spokeswoman Sarah Scoltock tells USA TODAY. “The captain made the call to leave.”

Scoltock says the vessel was met by supporters from the Molokai community when it returned on Sunday.

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Known for its nature-focused sailings in Alaska, American Safari launched its first voyages in Hawaii in October, touting an off-the-beaten-path itinerary that included stops in little-visited Molokai as well as Lanai and Molokini — islands not normally on the schedule for cruise ships. The Safari Explorer is slated to operate 24 sailings in the region through May 2012 before returning to Alaska for the summer.

Protesters in Molokai have met the Safari Explorer several times since it began visiting in October but until this week the ship hasn’t had any trouble docking at the island.

Relatively unpopulated and undeveloped as compared to Hawaiian tourist meccas Maui and Oahu, Molokai has a long history in resisting the development of tourism, including cruise ship visits. In 2003, Holland America and Princess abandoned plans to send ships to the island after widespread protests. Still, the number of vacationers American Safari is bringing to the island — just a few dozen a week — is small even by Molokaiian standards.

Scoltock says American Safari CEO Dan Blanchard will attend a community meeting in Molokai on Wednesday. “The door is open on our end, and we are eager to work with the community,” she says.

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