Maui officials: Luxury yacht that ran aground near marine sanctuary leaked fuel into bay

A salvage plan is currently in development for the yacht.
Published: Feb. 20, 2023 at 10:24 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 21, 2023 at 9:10 PM HST

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Maui officials confirmed the luxury yacht grounded near a marine sanctuary leaked fuel into the bay.

The 94-foot vessel got stuck on the reef on Monday at Honolua Bay. The extent of the leak is unknown at this time, and it’s prompting calls for action.

“The whole community is kind of little disturbed ... it’s just kind of shocking ... from an environmental aspect,” said West Maui resident Darren McDaniel. “So many people that have given so much of their heart and soul into taking care of this place, makes me teary eyed.”

On Tuesday, a sheen of diesel fuel was visible in waters surrounding the boat and people nearby complained of the stench of fuel in the air.

“People are angry. People are pissed. That’s for sure,” said Napili resident Mike Jucker. “It is very sad.”

The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), and a private contractor are trying to dislodge the 94-foot Nakoa and prevent any more pollution.

“Honolua Bay is in our Marine Life Conservation District. It’s got a wealth of marine life. It’s important environmentally, ecologically, culturally. And of course, also from ocean user point of view, it has a high recreation value. This is one of the most popular waves on Maui,” said Lauren Blickley, Surfrider Foundation Hawaii Regional Manager.

DLNR officials said the yacht can’t be moved until all fuel, batteries, and any other pollutants on board are removed. That process may involve a helicopter and is expected to take at least through Wednesday.

“What I understand, there’s no boom, which is used to contain an oil spill, or fuel spill. There’s no boom readily available on Maui. So, it’s having to be flown or shipped in from Oahu,” said DLNR Senior Communications Manager Dan Dennison. “That may take a little while.”

DLNR officials said it will likely be a few more days before the vessel is freed from the rocks and reef.

“Once the fuel and other potential hazards are removed, the USCG will release the vessel back to the owner. At that time, he will need to provide the DLNR an acceptable salvage plan for the vessel’s removal,” Dennison said.

DLNR said it’s investigating what led to the Nakoa grounding and citations and fines could be levied based on the findings of that investigation.

“This morning, a team from the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) did an initial underwater assessment of potential damage to coral reefs and live rock. Divers noted an estimated 30 coral and live rock were damaged but will need to return to do a more thorough assessment once the vessel is removed. Based on those findings, the boat’s owner could face significant penalties as determined by the State Board of Land and Natural Resources. Corals and live rock (other non-coral reef organisms) are protected by State law,” said Dennison.

DLNR said active leaks have stopped because one of the owner’s friends managed to board the yacht and shut off all the pumps.

The Coast Guard said the Federal On-scene Coordinator opened the National Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund “federalizing efforts to mitigate potential pollution to the environment.”

Maui County issued an emergency permit allowing special equipment to remove the yacht to prevent further damage to the reef and the ecosystem.

Maui Mayor Richard Bissen Jr. issued a statement on the incident:

“I spoke with Governor Green today and shared the concerns our community has on what has happened at Honolua Bay and the need to expedite response efforts to protect the marine sanctuary and remove the grounded vessel. I share those concerns as well. I also received an update from DLNR director Dawn Chang that outlined the department’s actions and next steps requiring the involvement of the U.S. Coast Guard. I’ve conveyed that this is a serious matter and appreciate the attention of the Governor and his administration to address the situation. I understand that this is under the jurisdiction of State and Federal agencies and I’ve been assured that their efforts are being done urgently. I’ve assigned senior staff to carefully monitor the situation and offer support when appropriate.”

The owner of a luxury yacht has apologized.

Jim Jones, the owner of Noelani Yacht Charters, told Hawaii News Now he was anchored offshore with his family for the past two days, and then something went wrong at around 5:45 a.m. Monday.

“While we’re underneath the boat during our pre-check, the mooring line broke,” said Jones.

“As we come out of the boat, it was too late.”

Jones said he’s sorry for running aground at Honolua Bay and added that no negligence was involved.

“It was a freak accident and worst timing ever,” said Jones. “We couldn’t have done anything about this, and we’re doing everything we possibly can to try to get off of here.”

The 94-foot boat called The Nakoa is stuck in a prime surf spot and near a marine sanctuary where Honolua Coalition has been opposing developments and protecting the bay for nearly 15 years.

“It is a terrible optic, it’s just something you just would dream of never seeing, and it happened today,” said John Carty of Honolua Coalition.

”We’re hoping for the best that the damage can be minimized.”

The nonprofit Malama Kai Foundation said the public is allowed to use Day-use Moorings Buoys on a first-come, first serve basis with a two-and-a-half hour time limit.

Jones said he wasn’t warned of the rules and stayed there for two days.

“There’s nobody that contacted us ever about, ‘hey, you can’t be in this bay, you can’t hook up to an anchor here,’” said Jones. “And so, if somebody would have said that, we would have got out of here.”

Maui Community Advocate Tiare Lawrence is asking for the State to step up.

“Really push forward and passing sensible legislation to protect these places and to enforce,” said Lawrence. “There’s a lack of enforcement, we hear it all the time, and they really need to step up.”

Jones said they’re hoping to be out by 4 a.m. on Tuesday when it’s supposed to be high tide. The company will have to pay for the removal costs.

Maui County issued the following statement:

“In response to the increasing risk of damage to the reef and ecosystem at Honolua Bay, a marine sanctuary in West Maui, the County of Maui exercised its ability to issue an emergency Special Management Area permit that would allow equipment to access the site via the shoreline and assist in dislodging the vessel from the reef it is resting on and enable it to reach deeper water to exit the area. The emergency permit, authorized by Acting Planning Director Kathleen Ross Aoki was issued late this afternoon following discussions with West Maui Councilmember Tamara Paltin and the excavation company. This action comes after attempts during an afternoon high tide failed. The State must still issue a corresponding permit for the work that also involves DLNR jurisdiction beginning at the high water mark and into the ocean. We are pleased to be able to rapidly respond to a situation in dire need. The longer the vessel remains in the sensitive area the higher the risk of damage.”

Despite an offer from a private excavation company and an emergency permit provided by Maui County, the land department said it does not currently plan to issue a permit allowing an excavator to try and push the boat out from land.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

Copyright 2023 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.