WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Federal immigration officials are now investigating the fishing boat that ran aground with 20 people on board in Waikiki last week.
"We don't know who they were, where they are — at least I don't know — and it raises the question of, 'is this a human trafficking situation or something else that we need to deal with more aggressively,'" Bruce Anderson, Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Aquatic Resources Administrator said.
Anderson said there were only five fishermen with licenses assigned to the 79-foot Pacific Paradise. However, there were 19 fishermen on board with the captain when it ran aground in Waikiki last Tuesday night.
"Obviously this is not a normal situation. Whether the captain was drunk or asleep or whatever the case may be. Something went array here," Anderson said.
State Representative Kaniel Ing said DLNR needs to do a better job of regulating foreign fishermen in the long line fleet.
"It was just being used to transport people ... and there's another word for that, it's called human trafficking," said Ing.
Representative Ing met with land department officials on Wednesday to voice his concerns about the vessel.
"There's no way of tracking who they are or where they come from, how are they being treated and what they're doing here in Hawaii in the first place, so there's this big loop hole in the law," Ing said.
Both Ing and Anderson said the boat owner's insurance probably won't cover everything.
"It's been over a week now and with all the time and effort that's been spent, I guessing we're looking at costs upwards of a million dollars or more," Anderson said.
"If this boat does incur millions of dollars in damage, there's only a $400,000 insurance liability, and the rest is going to be folks like you and I," Ing echoed.
Anderson also said there is coral damage and wants the vessel quickly removed to minimize additional damage.
"The area just inside of the grounding site is a marine life conservation district. It's considered our highest area of protection and there's no fishing allowed or any other activities that might impact on the resources there. So we're very concerned about the close proximity of the vessel and the marine life conservation district which is very nearby," he said.
The full extent of the damage won't be known until the vessel if removed, but surf in the area has been hampering the salvage operation.
A 500-foot safety zone around the ship remains in place.