Authorities now say at least 21 shipping containers fell off barge in Big Island waters

Updated: Jun. 22, 2020 at 9:16 PM HST
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HILO, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Coast Guard says at least 21 shipping containers fell from a Young Brothers barge off the Big Island early Monday.

Officials say a dozen of the 40-foot containers are missing.

Meanwhile, nine are adrift ― one is just outside of Hilo Harbor while others are as far as eight miles offshore.

The Coast Guard said the containers fell off the Ho Omaka Hou about 4:30 a.m. Monday as the barge was headed toward Hilo Harbor.

No injuries have been reported, but officials are warning boaters of the hazard.

“We have issued a broadcast notice to any mariners to alert any traffic in the area to keep a sharp look out for those containers that may pose a hazard to navigation,” said Coast Guard spokeswoman Sara Muir.

A tug was pulling the barge when the containers fell overboard, the Coast Guard said. At the time of the incident, winds were at about 12 mph and waves were at about 4 feet.

Coast Guard officials said it’s working with Young Brothers to assess the situation and determine what cargo is lost. Marine safety personnel were dispatched to the Big Island, and an overflight is set to be conducted.

In a statement, Young Brothers Director of Terminal Operations Chris Martin said it was working closely with state and federal officials in determining the cause of the incident.

“Once the site has been declared safe, we will determine the number of containers impacted and contact affected customers,” Martin said. “Young Brothers has a salvage company in place to assist with developing and executing a plan to retrieve the containers.”

State Sen. Kai Kahele suspects the barge was overloaded when it left Honolulu Harbor Saturday. He wants the state Public Utilities Commission and the federal government to investigate potential safety violations.

“They loaded the container almost five high on the stern and those containers were partially collapsing and falling off and hanging off the side of the barge,” said Kahele, (D) Hilo.

“What potential dangers exist? What type of materials were in those cargo containers? Were they hazardous materials.”

The incident comes as the company, the only regularly scheduled shipping carrier authorized by the state to transport goods inter-island, is facing severe financial distress.

Last month, Young Brothers asked the state for $25 million in federal stimulus dollars to help cover expenses and warned that without assistance the Neighbor Islands could see shipping disruptions.

The company temporarily reduced its service to Maui and Hawaii counties. Kahele said the cutback is hurting the Big Island’s business community.

“It’s going to be devastating for Hawaii Island. We already see that it is affecting small farmers, it’s affecting our businesses,” he said.

This story will be updated.

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