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Coast Guard strike team responding to molasses spill

By Sarah Zoellick

LAST UPDATED: 1:26 a.m. HST, Sep 16, 2013

An elite Coast Guard team that responds to oil and hazardous-material spills has been dispatched to Hawaii to offer its expertise in the response and cleanup of the 233,000-gallon molasses spill reported a week ago in Honolulu Harbor, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz announced Sunday.

Schatz described the Pacific Strike Team, which is part of the Coast Guard's National Strike Force, as the "cream of the crop."

"These are really the all-stars when it comes to disaster response and management, and this is going to be tremendously helpful as we continue to work to get this situation under control," the senator said today in a phone interview from Washington, D.C.

Schatz said the deployment of the team puts Hawaii in the best position possible to ensure that the harbor's severely affected marine environment can recover as quickly as possible. Members of the team will work with experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency who are already on scene.

The spill was reported a week ago today, but Matson Inc.'s incident commander said Saturday that the spilled molasses was likely pumping through a faulty pipe from Sept. 7 around 6 p.m. to the morning of Sept. 8.

Schatz said NOAA and the EPA were brought in Wednesday and that "a more full-fledged federal response" to the Department of Health-led cleanup, including the Coast Guard, mobilized Thursday and Friday.

"I think the seriousness of the situation became more apparent after the first day or two, and we've been very pleased with how the federal agencies have mobilized and worked with our state government to get a handle on this problem," he said. The state Department of Health remains the lead responder.

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