Park officials raise concerns over boat tours getting too close to lava

National Park Service raises concerns over boat tours getting too close to lava
Published: Jan. 13, 2017 at 2:05 AM HST|Updated: Jan. 13, 2017 at 11:51 AM HST
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VOLCANO, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - Thousands of people have flocked to Kamokuna on the Big Island to get as close as they can to the flow entering the ocean from Kilauea's Pu'u O'o vent.

Many of them are getting there via tour boats. And the National Park Service now says those boats are raising concerns about safety.

Ever since the collapse of the lava delta at Kamokuna on New Year's Eve, the park service has been keeping hikers 1,000 feet away, and the FAA is keeping all nearby aircraft above 1,000 feet.

But the park service said the ocean is the state's jurisdiction.

And the state said the U.S. Coast Guard has jurisdiction.

Ed Underwood, state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Boating and Ocean administrator, said while the state has not jurisdiction over tour boats, there are ongoing discussions about potential rule-making.

Meanwhile, tour boat operators say they're operating legally -- and safely.

"When we get to the site, we assess it, and we do what we find safest for our guests," said Shane Turpin, with Lava Ocean Tours.

The company has been taking visitors to lava shows like this for more than a decade, and added the company has had no serious safety issues.

"Many times, when these avalanches occur, steam occurs around the eruption. And the hot steam is just that. It's hot steam," he said.

"There's no major gases or anything in it, and I can tell you from decades of being out here, there's a huge difference from the plume cloud versus the steam you see rising off the water."

But the park service says ocean tours are taking big risks.

In a letter, the NPS said "boats have been observed going into and through the plume generated by the ocean entry. This is a serious safety hazard due to fine volcanic particles and hazardous gases."

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