Matson apologizes for massive molasses spill in Honolulu Harbor

10 p.m. report: Matson apologizes for massive molasses spill in Honolulu Harbor
Published: Sep. 13, 2013 at 12:01 AM HST|Updated: Sep. 13, 2013 at 1:31 AM HST
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Molasses spill viewed from above
Molasses spill viewed from above

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Matson apologized Thursday for Monday's molasses spill disaster and said the company will not "run from responsibility."

Vic Angoco, Matson Senior Vice President of the Pacific Division, opened the press conference by saying, "Matson truly regrets what has happened. What has transpired this week. We are really concerned on the impact this will have on the environment. We take pride in what we do. We take pride in being good stewards of the land, of the ocean. In this case, we didn't live up to our standards. We are truly, truly sorry for that. Matson is responsible for that molasses spill that has happened this week."

Hawaii News Now has been pressing for answers and an on camera response since we broke the story Monday that the leak into Honolulu Harbor was killing marine life.

The dead fish continue to pile up, three days after a faulty Matson pipe discharged 233,000 gallons of molasses into the water, resulting in a mass kill.

According to Gary Gill of the Department of Health, "Pretty much everything we imagine is down there is negatively impacted and at least some of the population has died."

DOH has collected 2,000 dead fish, eels, crabs and other marine life so far. The "underwater graveyard" we documented yesterday at La Mariana Sailing Club shows even more widespread devastation. Aerial footage we shot Thursday still shows the murky dark hue left behind by the molasses.

Angoco faced reporters for the first time today, but could not answer many key questions about what went wrong, saying, "I'm not a specialist on molasses. I'll leave it at that."

Unanswered questions include why a pipe not normally used to pump molasses onto ships was operating Monday, and no one detected the leak, for hours.

Some samples of our Q & A:

"I'd only be speculating. I can't tell you how long that molasses was leaking in the water. I can't so I will just let it go."

"We're 75 hours after the fact. You say you're environmental stewards. We've been pressing for answers since Monday. We're 3 days removed, shouldn't you have isolated and found answers by now? Our focus has been to work on the response."

"Priority Monday Tuesday, stop leak and fix it. That's where we're at. Now our priority is on what we need to do to help mitigate and reduce the impact. Then we'll move forward. You keep using the word impact. That's a euphemism for damage, devastation, disaster. People are outraged seeing these fish, mature fish floating to the surface. We're just as outraged. Employees take pride in what we do. We don't like seeing what happened. I don't know that anyone has an idea the long term effect of molasses."

"Was someone sleeping on the job? 233-thousand gallons is a lot to seep in without someone detecting it," asked Hawaii News Now. "I hear you. I understand. I got to let the investigation go through. Let process take its course," replied Angoco.

There are several investigations underway into the spill, and the leaking pipe. Environmental groups are pressing for answers.

"There's shock and anger," said Robert Harris of the Sierra Club of Hawaii. "One of the things that we're attempting to do is to push the Department of Health to be vigilant in trying to do an enforcement action against the polluter, Matson, here."

Lawmakers are also getting involved. Rep. Chris Lee (D), the chairman of the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee, said he plans to call a special hearing as soon as next week.

"Were there procedures and policies in place to make sure that there was a plan to deal with this in the first place?," asked Lee. "If there weren't, why not? What can we do to create that, because it sounds like a difficult situation to clean up."

Matson could not say if the pipe had been inspected recently. The Department of Transportation says it has no oversight over the pipes. DOT Spokesperson Caroline Sluyter said, "It's not our responsibility to inspect it. It's the tenant's responsibility."

State officials and Matson all agree we won't know the full extent of damage, until tests can be done on the dead fish, and coral, that were smothered in molasses. The Department of Land and Natural Resources asks for patience because it can take weeks to get back results.

The DLNR is also monitoring other wildlife besides fish and eels. "They have some concerns about turtle resting areas and monk seals," said DLNR chair William Aila. "So far no issues with any of those areas."

Matson has set up a Claims hotline for businesses that have suffered losses from the spill. The number is (808) 848-8300.

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