A private luxury yacht that ran aground on rocks and reef Monday morning at Honolua Bay – a popular surfing spot and protected marine sanctuary in west Maui – has leaked fuel into the ocean, according to the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
A sheen of fuel was visible on the water on Tuesday morning and during the afternoon, “you could still smell fuel in the air,” according to the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Maui County officials issued an emergency permit on Tuesday morning to intervene “in response to the increasing risk of damage to the reef and ecosystem” that the stuck yacht poses. “The longer the vessel remains in the sensitive area the higher the risk of damage,” said Mayor Richard Bissen Jr., in a statement.
A team from the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Aquatic Resources did an initial underwater assessment of any damage to coral reefs and live rocks, which are protected by state law, around the boat and found about 30 to be damaged. Although further assessment is required, the boat owner could face “significant penalties.”
Officials said it will likely take a few more days before the yacht can be freed from the reef. The U.S. Coast Guard federalized the yacht, meaning all fuel, batteries and any other pollutants on board must be removed first.
The 94-foot vessel belongs to Noelani Yacht Charters, a Maui-based company owned by Jim Jones. He told Hawaii News Now that he “was anchored offshore with his family for the past two days.” Early Monday morning, Jones said a mooring line broke in what he called “a freak accident.”
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Noelani Yacht Charters did not immediately respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment.
According to the Malama Kai Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to ocean stewardship, the mooring used by Jones overnight is only meant to be used short-term during daytime hours with a limit of two hours.
Residents and advocates were upset at social media images and videos of the stuck yacht.
“The community demands this company be held fully accountable. This is totally unacceptable. The Save Honolua Coalition has tried for years to have the State control boat usage of the bay. We hope that this tragic incident highlights the importance of the issue. For now, we pray that DOCARE and the salvage company act quickly and effectively so that the damage be minimized,” Save Honolua Coalition, a grassroots organization to protect the bay, said in a statement.
According to a press release by the Department of Land and Natural Resources on Tuesday morning, if a private vessel is run aground, it is the responsibility of the owner to remove it “with the least amount of damage possible to reefs and marine environments.” The owner needs to send a written salvage plan for approval to the department. In these sorts of plans, a private contractor typically pulls the yacht out to sea via tugboat.
Jones told he Department of Land and Natural Resources that “he was never aware of a land-based approach and had no plans to pursue such an action.”
“This vessel grounded just outside the Honolua-Mokuleia Marine Life Conservation District (MLCD), which has the highest degree of resource protections available under state law,” said DLNR Chair Dawn Chang in the release. “We are coordinating our actions very closely with Maui County, the boat’s owner, the USCG, area legislators, and the salvage company. We want to do everything possible to prevent any additional damage to the reefs in the MLCD or elsewhere in the bay.”
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