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Some not surprised that shark tour boat burned

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Last week’s arson of a boat owned by a shark tour company is drawing mixed response on the North Shore.

A North Shore business advocate called the act way out of line. But such an incident was bound to happen, said one member of a group of surfers and others from the community opposed to shark feeding.

Police have opened an arson case after it was determined by the Honolulu Fire Department that a 30-foot boat destroyed by a blaze last Friday was intentionally set.

The fire was reported at 12:40 a.m. on the boat owned by North Shore Shark Adventures, a company doing business in Hawaii for almost 10 years. Heat from the fire also damaged a nearby vessel.

Damage was estimated at $225,000, and a motive for the fire has not been determined.

No arrests have been made, according to Michelle Yu, spokeswoman of the Honolulu Police Department. Police are looking for witnesses.

North Shore Shark Adventures and Hawaii Shark Encounters are the only shark tour companies in the state. Joe Pavsek, owner of North Shore Shark Adventures, could not be reached for comment.

"Whoever did that (the fire) was way out of line," said Antya Miller, executive director of the North Shore Chamber of Commerce.

There are better ways to address conflict, she said, adding that those responsible for the fire should be prosecuted. "I don’t like to see our community resorting to those tactics."

Haleiwa Harbormaster Paul Sensano said he was glad there were no injuries and that more vessels were not damaged in the fire. "If it wasn’t for the timeliness of the Fire Department, it could’ve been worse," he said.

Mahina Chillingworth of Hui o Hee Nalu, a North Shore group of surfers and other community members opposed to shark feeding, said she was not surprised when she heard about the intentionally set fire.

"They’re bringing it upon themselves," said Chillingworth, adding the shark tour businesses have hit a nerve for some. The tours have sparked controversy and frustration among some fishermen due to the lack of fish in North Shore waters because they are being eaten by sharks, Chillingworth said. Also, feeding sharks for commercial purposes is considered "total disrespect" to native Hawaiians as sharks are considered aumakua, or ancestral gods, she said.

Shark tour operators have said they venture only into areas where there are already sharks. Researchers who conducted a peer-review study said the tour boats take advantage of sharks that congregate around crabbing boats that throw old bait into the ocean from their traps, a practice that has been done since the 1960s.

Illegal-feeding charges, however, were made against five men last year following an investigation of the shark tour companies by federal and state organizations. A trial will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday at Wahiawa District Court for Maurice Lee Chalker Jr., Richard Bock Whyte, Nickolas Gargaro and Eric Christopher Nourrie, each charged with one count of shark feeding. Kohl William Ragragola was charged with two counts. Nourrie was a deckhand with North Shore Shark Adventures and is no longer employed with the company. It is unknown for which company the other men work.

Anyone with information on the boat fire is asked to call CrimeStoppers at 955-8300.

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