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Thief Makes off With Catamaran, Owner Gives Chase

May 4, 2020, 4:08 PM HST
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Honokohau Harbor in Kona. File photo.

A 50-foot sailing catamaran was stolen from the Honokōhau State Small Boat Harbor Saturday morning.

Within a few eventful hours, the vessel was back at its mooring after one of the boat’s owners and the Big Island boating community at large collaborated to track down the thief on the open ocean and recover the property he’d stolen.

Kalani Nakoa — co-owner of the 50-foot Noa Noa, which offers Tom Barefoot’s snorkel tours off the West Hawai‘i Coast — was having his coffee around 6:45 a.m. Saturday when security cameras picked up and alerted him to an intruder on his boat.

About half an hour later, while on his way to the harbor, Nakoa received a call from one of his employees asking him if he was aboard the vessel, as it was no longer in the bay.

“By the time I got down there, sure enough, the boat was gone,” Nakoa said. “I was like, ‘You gotta be kidding me.’ I couldn’t even see it on the horizon.”

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The catamaran was headed north based on reports from the scene. Nakoa contacted the Hawai‘i Fire Department, the Coast Guard and the Hawai‘i DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE).

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However, it was Jeff Leicher of Jack’s Diving Locker and one of his crew members who had a boat ready for pursuit when Nakoa left land and headed to sea.

“We couldn’t see (the Noa Noa) at first,”  Nakoa said. “We saw a dot and it started getting bigger and bigger, and we realized that was it.”

Fellow boating community members at Kukio and Kohanaiki were in contact with Nakoa and Leicher, offering their help to run down the boat thief. Jet skis from Kohanaiki joined the pursuit and helped to ultimately retrieve the catamaran.

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“If it wasn’t for Jack’s, the boat would have been gone,” Nakoa said. “Everybody was so professional. It was the boating community at its best.”

When they caught up to the Noa Noa, a barely clothed man wearing only a pareo was at the helm of the catamaran and on a course for Maui. DLNR subsequently identified the suspect as 35-year-old Jason Fujioka of Kea‘au.

Nakoa and others asked Fujioka to stop, but he didn’t acknowledge them. It was at that point Nakoa snapped into action hero mode and made a decision he would later say “wasn’t the smartest thing to do.”

At a speed of roughly eight knots, Nakoa lept from the Jack’s Diving Locker boat he was aboard onto the deck of the Noa Noa while both vessels were moving.

“There was no other way to get the boat,” he said. “The guy obviously wasn’t stopping.”

Nakoa didn’t want to speculate on Fujioka’s state or clearness of mind at the time of the incident but did say the suspect clearly had some experience with boats, as starting up the Noa Noa isn’t as simple as turning a key.

While Fujioka didn’t comply with requests to stop the catamaran, Nakoa said the alleged boat thief was docile the moment he joined him on the deck of the Noa Noa.

“I feel very fortunate and blessed that he was absolutely compliant and non-combative,” Nakoa said. “I offered him some water, and he took it. He never moved until we got back to the harbor.”

Nakoa made a special point to offer his gratitude to Coast Guard Lt. Elizabeth Stevens, DOCARE officers, the Hawai‘i Fire Department, Jack’s Diving Locker and the entire West Hawai‘i boating community for the help he received Saturday to return the Noa Noa back where it belonged.

Upon arrival at the harbor, DOCARE officers met the catamaran and took Fujioka into custody. He was taken to the Kona Police Station for booking and processing. His bail was set at $8,000.

Fujioka faces charges of unauthorized control of a propelled vehicle, first-degree theft and violation of state emergency rules and orders. His initial court appearance took place Monday.

While Fujioka’s crimes were somewhat sensational compared to others that fit some of the same categories, he’s far from the only person breaking laws and rules that were in place before the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as new rules in place during Hawai‘i’s ongoing emergency period.

During the week of April 24 to May 1, 2020, DOCARE officers wrote 57 citations. Most were for the emergency orders and closed area violations, but there were also citations for violations of Kaho‘olawe unauthorized vessel rules, controlled substance violations and promotion of a detrimental drug, the DLNR said in a press release.

Officers also issued 122 warnings. The majority of those were for emergency rules violations or for entering a closed state park.

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