Luxury yacht grounded in Maui bay leaked fuel; likely days to be freed from reef
The 94-foot luxury yacht Nakoa grounded nearshore of Honolua Bay in northwest Maui on Sunday and likely will take days to be freed from rocks and the reef.
The owners of the yacht have hired a private contractor to salvage the vessel, according to the Hawaiʻi State Department of Land and Natural Resources.
When a private vessel runs aground, the vessel’s owner is responsible to remove it, although the owner must coordinate with the Department of Land and Natural Resources to ensure that the vessel is removed with the least amount of damage possible to reefs and marine environments.
The vessel’s owner must also deal with federal regulations. On Tuesday, the U.S. Coast Guard federalized the vessel, which means the yacht cannot be moved until all fuel, batteries, and any other pollutants on board are removed. That process may involve a helicopter and is expected to take at least through tomorrow.
That action came after a sheen of diesel fuel was seen leaking on Tuesday morning from the boat’s hull and was visible in surrounding water.
By Tuesday afternoon, a pair of officers from the state Division of Conservation & Resources Enforcement, who had been on the scene all day, reported that one of the owner’s friends managed to board the yacht and shut off all pumps. By late Tuesday afternoon, the sheen was not visible, but you could still smell fuel in the air. Booms will be placed around the fuel to keep any remaining diesel from moving out of the immediate area.
Once the fuel and other potential hazards are removed, the Coast Guard will release the vessel back to the owner. At that time, the owner will need to provide the Department of Land and Natural Resources with an acceptable salvage plan for the vessel’s removal. Should the state not agree with the salvage plan, or the owner is unable to cover the cost of the salvage, the state will take the lead to remove the vessel and the owner will be responsible for all costs.
Tuesday morning, a team from the state Division of Aquatic Resources conducted an initial underwater assessment of potential damage to coral reefs and live rock. Divers noted an estimated 30 coral and live rock were damaged but will need to return to do a more thorough assessment once the vessel is removed.
Based on those findings, the boat’s owner could face significant penalties as determined by the State Board of Land and Natural Resources. Corals and live rock (other non-coral reef organisms) are protected by state law.
Additionally, the state Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation and state resource officers are investigating the circumstances that led to the Nakoa grounding. Additional citations and fines could be levied based on the findings of that investigation.
“We understand everyone’s frustration with the grounding and harm to the reef at Honolua, a bay with abundant marine life that’s loved by many residents of Maui and visitors alike,” said Laura Kaakua, first deputy with the Department of Land and Natural Resources. “Wednesday, the focus will be defueling the vessel, and then we can turn to efficient removal with the least additional damage possible.”