Community members speak out against Haleiwa boat arsons
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Mar 28, 2011
About 50 community members, leaders and business owners gathered at Haleiwa Small Boat Harbor yesterday to speak out against three recent fires that destroyed boats belonging to a controversial shark tour company.
The fires, which happened just after midnight Jan. 7 and 24 and before midnight Thursday, destroyed three North Shore Shark Adventures tour vessels. Two adjacent boats were also damaged. Fire investigators think all three blazes were intentionally set and estimated the damage to all five boats at $570,000.
"It doesn't matter whether we oppose or support a business ... we cannot stand for lawlessness," said state Rep. Gil Riviere (R, Kaena Point-Laie). "This can't go on."
Critics of the shark tour business accuse the boats of illegally feeding sharks to attract them for tourists to view from a submerged cage. Shark tour operators say they don't feed sharks and that sharks are attracted to the sound of the boat.
North Shore Shark Adventures says its tours help customers lose their phobias of sharks and gain a greater respect for the animal's beauty.
Riviere asked anyone with information about the fires to call CrimeStoppers at 955-8300 or his office at 586-6380.
Haleiwa businesses have offered a $24,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.
Susan Matsushima, chairwoman of the North Shore Chamber of Commerce, said the group supports all businesses and that Shark Adventures is an important chamber sponsor.
"We really are concerned about what is happening in our community," she said. "If we don't take the handle on this, I think we are all going to lose."
Riviere, whose office organized the gathering, said the crimes also harm other North Shore businesses, which benefit from the extra visitors the shark tour brings.
About 17 company employees have lost work hours because of the damage.
State Rep. Gene Ward (R, Kalama Valley-Hawaii Kai), who had expressed concerns about plans for a shark tour off East Oahu that were eventually scrapped in 2009, called the fires "un-American" and described the action as "vigilantism" by those who oppose shark tours.
"There's a better way of doing this," he said. "Rule of law is better than the whims and the anger of certain individuals."
Police said an investigation was ongoing. There were no arrests as of yesterday morning. The Coast Guard, firefighters and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives assisted with the investigation Friday, police said.
Because of budget cuts, the state does not have security overnight at the harbor, which, police say, is often the scene of drinking or drug activity at night.
Shark Adventures owner Joe Pavsek said the company remains open for business, but with one boat instead of three. His employees share hours by working only one day a week.
Last week's fire destroyed a boat that he had brought from the Big Island. He recently brought another boat, a 42-foot vessel, from Kauai to rebuild the fleet.
"Psycho," he remarked. "It's domestic terrorism at its best."
He said he has an idea of who might be behind the fires, but wouldn't elaborate.
"I can't really say at this time," he said.
Besides North Shore Shark Adventures, Hawaii Shark Encounters also offers shark tours out of Haleiwa Harbor.
Alexis Dorney, 17, of Utah went on the Shark Adventures boat yesterday with her family because "it's cool." Her family received a refund after they didn't see any sharks.
Her father, Grant Dorney, heard about the fires and said he was curious to learn more about the controversy surrounding the business because employees on the tour didn't do anything that would seem to hurt the environment.
He said his family, which has been staying in Waikiki, drove to the North Shore so his daughter could take the tour.
"She just wanted to see the sharks in their natural environment," he said.
"We would not be here if it's not for this," he said. "We would not be spending dollars here today."