Fishermen feel vacating the ports ahead of a tropical storm could be dangerous

Fishing boat owners express safety, financial concerns as Hawaii's harbors prepare for Olivia

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - On Monday night, ports in Hawaii and Maui counties were expected to go into what's called condition "Zulu," meaning sustained gale force winds are expected within 12 hours.

For the City and County of Honolulu, the Coast Guard anticipated implementing condition "Zulu" by 6 a.m. Tuesday. If that happens, both Honolulu and Kalaeloa harbors will be shut down and all vessels must be evacuated, unless they have permission to stay in port.

As of Monday night, Coast Guard officials said they were closely watching Olivia's track before making any changes to port conditions.

With Olivia approaching, some fishing boat owners say they would feel safer staying in the harbor than out at sea.

"We are concerned for our fisherman, for their safety, and for their livelihoods. These boats are their lives. To put them into any more immediate danger is more troubling to me," said Michael Goto, auction manager with the United Fishing Agency.

Goto says there are about 140 fishing vessels, and the owners are rushing to get everything ready for Olivia.

"It's kind of a mad scramble to get all the captains prepped, get the vessels fueled up, and really prepare to be out at sea for a number of days," Goto said.

One fishing boat owner, who didn't want to be identified, says they also take a financial hit by stocking up the boats to wait out the storm.

He says he knows he could face a fine of up to $10,000 if he doesn't leave the harbor.

"The state harbors gave us the warning, if we don't take the vessel out of the harbor, we should have a big fine and for one year we can not enter the harbor. If I have no captain to operate the vessel, then I cannot take all my vessels out of the harbor," said the boat owner.

The Coast Guard says mariners are given time to prepare themselves and their vessels.

The harbor master sent a notice about the potential harbor closures Saturday.

"The purpose of the port condition statuses is to give those mariners a heads up of that countdown. And it is important to remember vessel operators are responsible for having an evacuation plan or a heavy weather plan for their vessels," said Petty Officer Third Class Amanda Levasseur with Coast Guard Public Affairs.

The transportation department says it's in the best interest of the state's harbors and the vessels to be out at sea during severe weather.

Officials point to Typhoon Jebi, which just barreled into western Japan last week, slamming a tanker into a bridge.

"Typhoon Jebi is just one example out of the many that have happened, justifying why these actions are needed to try to prevent that catastrophic event from getting worse," said Tim Sakahara, transportation department spokesman.

If any of the harbors are closed, the Coast Guard says they will do assessments once the storm has passed to determine when to reopen the ports to vessel traffic.

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