Hawaii fishermen find skiff from Japan tsunami

Published: Oct. 5, 2012 at 5:32 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 5, 2012 at 10:32 PM HST
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The skiff as it was first found north of Maui
The skiff as it was first found north of Maui
The skiff being towed to Hawaii after cleaning
The skiff being towed to Hawaii after cleaning
Source: U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric J. Chandler
Source: U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric J. Chandler

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow)

State and federal officials have confirmed that a 20-foot-long skiff found north of Hawaii is debris from last year's Japan tsunami.

The small fiberglass boat was discovered last week Friday by the longline fishing vessel Zephyr about 700 miles north of Maui, and is the second confirmed piece of tsunami debris. It was towed to Honolulu Harbor, where it arrived Friday morning.

"First I thought, well, let's set the gear by it and maybe we'll catch some fish. And we caught a few fish. I really didn't pay it much mind the first day," said the Zephyr's captain, Peter Grillo.

"When I saw it the next day, seven or eight miles away, and it was right at the end of a set of my line, I thought well, maybe I'll check this thing out and see if its worth salvaging," he said. "Probably that day I contacted my wife by e-mail and told her about it, told her I found it, and maybe she ought to contact the Coast Guard because I'm going to salvage this, and I want to go through all the proper channels so that I can claim ownership of it and have some fun with it."

"He did the right thing. He called the Coast Guard and NOAA and we all begin implementing our processes," said William Aila, chairman of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. "The captain was great because he understood our concern about marine debris, so he and his crew cleaned the vessel."

Aila also said health officials checked the skiff for any radioactivity and found only normal background levels of radiation.

Grillo said it took nearly a week to clean the skiff, which was encrusted with gooseneck barnacles.

Aila said authorities informed the Japanese Consulate, which contacted the owner in Iwate Prefecture in northeast Japan. "The owner is glad that the vessel was found but they are no longer interested in the vessel, so the captain gets to keep it," said Aila.

The first confirmed piece of tsunami debris was a blue bin found near Waimanalo last month. A large dock was last seen floating near Molokai, but officials have not been able to find it since. "We also flew a couple of directed flights specifically trying to locate it after the day that -- the time from between when it was seen to when we heard about it, and we've had other flights of opportunity. And we have not be able to relocate the dock. So we don't know where it is at this point," said Coast Guard Capt. Joanna Nunan.

Aila said the skiff's find shows that the process works. "Anyone finding any marine debris off shore or significant size like this, please contact, NOAA, please contact the Coast Guard, contact the DLNR," he said. "The main goal is to avoid the introduction of marine invasive species that's not native to Hawaii and not present here in Hawaii, as well as to make sure that if there are any hazards to navigation, that they get taken care of immediately."

NOAA said the Japanese government has authorized $5 million to the U.S. government to handle tsunami debris.

As for the skiff, Grillo said he realizes he now has a piece of history on his hands. But he plans to fix it up and use it. "It needs some minor fiberglass work and some touch-ups on the gel coat. A fresh coat of paint and it'll be good to go," he said.

"I wanna get my fly rod and go out in Keehi Lagoon and get some bone fish."


The public is invited to contact DLNR at (808) 587-0400 to report findings of possible tsunami marine debris. If possible, we request that a picture of the debris with a detailed description of the object, date found, location and finder's contact information, be sent to .

This information will help DLNR staff to determine if a more thorough investigation is necessary.  If you find a debris item that can clearly be traced back to an individual or group and has monetary and personal value, please report it to with relevant information.

Previous story: Hawaii experts examine possible tsunami debris

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