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Molasses plume in Honolulu Harbor killing hundreds of fish

By Marcel Honoré

LAST UPDATED: 12:04 a.m. HST, Sep 11, 2013

A corroded, faulty pipe used to pump molasses onto Matson, Inc. cargo ships at Sand Island spilled an estimated 233,000 gallons of the dark and syrupy substance into Honolulu Harbor on Monday, killing hundreds of fish there, company and public health officials say.

The state's Department of Health is concerned about a large plume that's still in the harbor today -- indicating the total molasses spilled was "significant," Department of Health spokeswoman Janice Okubo said.

"There is a huge plume in the water at Honolulu Harbor," she said.  It appears to be depleting oxygen from the water, causing fish to beach themselves, health officials say. 

A private contractor is removing the dead fish, in part to help keep predatory fish -- including sharks -- away from the area, Okubo said. State health officials are also posting signs around the area warning people not to swim there.

However, there's no cleanup planned because health officials haven't determined a way to remove the substance from the water -- the molasses will likely have to dissipate and dissolve on its own, Kubo said.

Matson, which ships molasses exports from Hawaii to the mainland US, self-reported the spill Monday to the state DOH's Hazard Evaluation and Emergency Response office on Monday after workers started seeing a brown substance in the water and smelled something unusual, company spokesman Jeff Hull said.  

The shipping company then hired divers with Pacific Environmental Company, who inspected Matson's loading operation underwater and discovered the faulty pipe as the cause, according to a statement Matson released today.

The company is "fairly certain" the leak did not occur in the molasses tanks or the ship, and the pipe they've identified as the source was not normally used to pump the substance onto Matson ships, Hull added.

There's no molasses being pumped onto Matson ships at this time, and the company is working with DOH and other state agencies, including the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Department of Transportation (which regulates the harbors) to address the spill, Hull said.

"Matson regrets that the incident impacted many harbor users, as well as wildlife," Matson's statement read. "We take our role as an environmental steward very seriously and ... we are taking steps to ensure this situation does not happen again."

The last reported molasses spill in Hawaii occurred in December 2003, when a two-inch hole in a state transmission line spilled 50,000 gallons into Maui's Kahului Harbor. In that case, the molasses, from Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., was supposed to be pumped aboard a Matson barge. The spill was reported when officials noticed a discrepancy between the amount of molasses leaving its storage tank and that received by the barge.

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dsl wrote:
where's the eis? ahh no need just pay...
on September 10,2013 | 01:13PM
JBS wrote:
EIS? This was an existing pumping and shipping line. It's not like they were building rail along the water. But, hey, way to throw out a catchy little term that means nothing here.
on September 10,2013 | 03:09PM
1local wrote:
EPA go to work with the fines. Coast guard get to work...
on September 10,2013 | 03:46PM
residenttaxpayer wrote:
So who is liable for this mess and will they be accountable for whatever cleanup costs, efforts and whatever fines and penalties?....
on September 10,2013 | 02:15PM
atilter wrote:
who owns and operates da pump and lines to make a profit - dat's who's liable!
on September 10,2013 | 09:59PM
false wrote:
Ok now Matson should pay for clean up and damages.
on September 10,2013 | 02:24PM
GooglyMoogly wrote:
However, there's no cleanup planned because health officials haven't determined a way to remove the substance from the water -- the molasses will likely have to dissipate and dissolve on its own, Kubo said.

Let's read the article before posting comments, m'kay?

on September 10,2013 | 02:51PM
kentfonoimoana wrote:
There should be fines for this incident. If a private citizen poisons fish and pollutes the environment, you can bet there would be a fine or other penalty.
on September 10,2013 | 02:33PM
sloturle wrote:
sounds like the BP oil spill... can we get pictures??
on September 10,2013 | 02:43PM
Uncleart66 wrote:
Matson will pay....then hand you the bill with higher charges.....
on September 10,2013 | 02:49PM
stogie002 wrote:
EXACTLY. well said Uncleart66, well said.
on September 10,2013 | 04:18PM
shlykyi wrote:
Ok so they noticed a discrepancy on Mauii for 50k gallons, but noticed nothing on Oahu for the 233k gallons. The smell alone would catch your attention, not to mention the growing brown plume. total disregard for operational safety. What about the coral impact? Any signs of distress there? Come on Mr. Cox. get to it with your camera.
on September 10,2013 | 02:54PM
innocentBystander wrote:
Hi Fred.
on November 12,2013 | 08:44AM
lowtone123 wrote:
Sticky situation indeed.
on September 10,2013 | 03:04PM
NanakuliBoss wrote:
So now tilapia got diabetes? Prices should drop for Sweet Sour Sunfish in China Town.
on September 10,2013 | 03:13PM
hanoz808 wrote:
what is the molasses used for? thats not the edible type?
on September 10,2013 | 03:49PM
HonoluluHawaii wrote:
Fine Matson a zillion dollars !!! Whenever there is a monopolistic situation, people get lax because they think they are the only game in town: Matson, Hawaiian Airlines, Honolulu Star-Advertiser, etc.
on September 10,2013 | 03:50PM
SteveToo wrote:
Is there someplace I could buy say 4 gallons of molasses ?
on September 10,2013 | 05:11PM
syhud wrote:
Watched the news and all Matson could do was issue a statement? No spokesperson?
on September 10,2013 | 06:06PM
808comp wrote:
Love the DOH response. Matson should be fined heavy for negligent.
on September 10,2013 | 06:07PM
localguy wrote:
Matson will be writing a very big check to cover all damages and environmental fines. Fine comes from Matson's share holders, not ratepayers as not their fault Matson failed to ensure the pipe was serviceable.
on September 10,2013 | 06:17PM
fwurstiv wrote:
Matson gets fined our rates go up! I'm stupid, what are we doing with this molasses? How come there was no emergency/contingency plan? So many questions.
on September 10,2013 | 07:39PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
This explains why they are dragging huge pancakes across the bottom of the harbor tonight.
on September 10,2013 | 08:01PM
ainaboy wrote:
I find it odd that the name of the owner of the molasses is not named.
on September 10,2013 | 08:41PM
harley1 wrote:
can only be from HC&S - the same ones the SA did a full spread on last Sunday.
on September 10,2013 | 08:52PM
harley1 wrote:
And what if it were oil? Why are the tankermen and loaders not watching the cargo move? Tank level going down, but ship not settling as much as expected on the draft gage? Someone was asleep at the pump!
on September 10,2013 | 08:51PM
Aquarius1 wrote:
Flippin' Matson! They can afford to pay the fine. But if they are fined, they will recover by raising their rates. Evil.
on September 10,2013 | 10:04PM
seaborn wrote:
Hey Matson, take a few days to inspect every pipe you use to fill tanks!
on September 10,2013 | 10:16PM
waikane75 wrote:
I always enjoy watching all of the colorful reef fish near the parking lot at Aloha Tower. This is very sad. Matson should be fined severely and equipment should be secured and inspected to ensure that this never happens again.
on September 11,2013 | 01:15PM
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