Hawaii & Alaska
A luxury yacht ran aground off Maui on Feb. 20 and began leaking fuel in Honolua Bay. (Courtesy: DLNR/2023)

HI - Yacht Fuel Spill In Maui's Honolua Bay Prompts Calls For Reform

The grounding of the 94-foot luxury vessel has sparked calls to change the way commercial activity is handled in sensitive coastal waters.

It was about 6:30 in the morning when Paele Kiakona got the call from his father: A yacht was in trouble at Honolua Bay.

The two fishermen decided to load up their Jet Skis, call friends with boats and head over to try to free the vessel. But by the time they got there later that morning, the tide was receding.

The 94-foot yacht was stuck on the reef, and no matter how hard they pulled, it wouldn’t budge. The men came back later to offer to help remove fuel from the boat, but were told to get out of the water and let the government handle it.

In the days since the Feb. 20 grounding, Kiakona’s worst fear came true: The yacht leaked diesel into the water flowing to one of Maui’s most beloved marine sanctuaries, making national headlines.

And because the owner of the 120-ton yacht, Jim Jones, said he wouldn’t pay it, the state has put up $460,000 to salvage the vessel, which drifted from an area where it should never have been moored overnight in the first place.

“Everybody was mad, and all fingers were pointed at the captain and the owner of the boat,” said Kiakona. “But you know, if they were policed to begin with, this multi-million dollar mistake could have been avoided.”

The 120-ton boat is still stuck there. After crews spent hours Sunday trying to free the yacht, a tractor tug boat from Sause Brothers on Oahu joined the effort on Monday evening, turning it about 90 degrees.

But after an evening in the water with limited success, the contractor decided to head back to Oahu to resupply with a stronger rigging, according to the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. In a news release just after 9 p.m. Monday, the agency said the effort, which also involves a salvage ship operated by Visionary Marine, would resume again on Wednesday at the earliest.

“That’s another big issue, is that when these things happen, especially with a vessel this large, we don’t have the resources here,” DLNR Deputy Director Laura Kaakua said during a weekend briefing on Maui.

As the attempts to remove the yacht continue, many of Maui’s elected officials and residents are now calling for widespread reforms in the way the government prevents and responds to shipwrecks in Hawaii’s coastal waters.

Some Maui residents are also asking whether boats — especially those making money off of tourists — even belong in marine conservation areas like Honolua Bay, which are set up to protect delicate ocean ecosystems from harm.

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