Hawaiian Harbors

The USS Arizona warship dying in smoke during the attack of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. This attack by Japan provoked the United States into joining World War II.

USS Arizona warship in smoke during Japan’s attack of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

An attack at a local harbor not only put harbors in Hawaii on high alert, but also aggravated the largest war ever seen: World War II. After the Japanese decimated Pearl Harbor without warning on December 7, 1941, the United States declared war, and Hawaii was put under martial law.

As a U.S. naval base, Pearl Harbor was not owned by the Territory of Hawaii, but WWII affected the territory’s harbors nonetheless. The U.S. Navy and Army used the territory’s harbors as military outposts. And in the first few months of WWII, Japan attacked Pier 1 at Hilo Harbor, as reported by the territory’s board of commissioners:

“… Japanese submarines shelled three of our outports. The only damage sustained was at Pier 1, Hilo, where some fenders and a concrete haunch and pile were damaged.”

The guided missile destroyer USS Hopper (DDG 70) in Honolulu Harbor

Guided missile destroyer USS Hopper in Honolulu Harbor

During the four years when the United States fought in WWII (1941-1945), the board reported the “Territorial facilities have suffered much from intensive use and the lack of adequate maintenance.” And from July 1, 1944, to June 30, 1945 (territorial fiscal year), the terminals experienced their “most intense use in their history.”

The Board of Commissioners of the Territory of Hawaii collected and analyzed data and information behind WWII and other historical events affecting Hawaii’s harbors. From 1915 through 1961, the board reported them in annual reports, which also included illustrations, maps, graphs, and tables.

Ala Wai Harbor

Ala Wai Harbor

Each report contained a brief letter to the governor, which recapitulated the harbors’ significant events that year, and the bulk of the report presented tables of data, including the following:

  • Imports and exports
  • Facilities (new facilities and roads, maintenance, and repair)
  • Dredging (e.g. Kewalo Basin)
  • Fiscal statements (revenues, expenses, and general, special, and loan funds)
Canoes at Kahului Harbor

Canoes at Kahului Harbor

The reports are available online on eVols, University of Hawaii at Manoa’s institutional repository. UH Manoa Library digitized this collection, and contributors included Kapena Shim, librarian of the Hawaiian Collection, and the Desktop Network Services Department, including Martha Chantiny, Kathleen Luschek, Daniel Ishimitsu, and Alice Kim.

Each report went by the territory’s fiscal year, which is from July 1 in the previous year to June 30 in the next year (e.g. fiscal year 1951 was from July 1, 1950, through June 30, 1951).

U.S. Coast Guard escorts a cruise out of Honolulu Harbor

U.S. Coast Guard escorts a cruise out of Honolulu Harbor

Hawaii’s major ports included Honolulu (Oahu), Hilo (Big Island), Kahului (Maui), Port Allen (Kauai), and Nawiliwili (Kauai). Today, the Harbor Division of the Hawaii State Department of Transportation oversees state harbors.

Despite airplanes displacing shipping in transporting travelers and goods, shipping still delivers most of the latter and significantly affects Hawaii economy today. Furthermore, the cost of shipping is a major factor to Hawaii’s high cost of living. And news of a potential shipping strike usually has locals scrambling to the store for toilet paper and food, as many older locals remember lacking them during a past major shipping strike.

Kahului Harbor

Kahului Harbor

Hawaii Board of Harbor Commissioners

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