A federal judge is allowing a shipping company to pay $600,000 in restitution to environmental organizations as part of a sentence for spilling molasses in Honolulu Harbor.
Matson Terminals Inc., a subsidiary of Matson Navigation Co., was sentenced Thursday for criminal charges related to the 233,000-gallon molasses spill in September 2013 which killed more than 26,000 fish and other marine life.
In sentencing the company, U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard Puglisi approved the restitution.
Prosecutors and Matson had agreed that the company’s sentence would be a $400,000 fine and $600,000 in community service payments to Waikiki Aquarium and Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii.
But when Matson pleaded guilty in October, Puglisi questioned the legality of the $600,000 payment.
Puglisi accepted the guilty plea to two misdemeanor counts for illegally releasing the molasses without a permit, but he postponed sentencing so that he could examine the issue. He was concerned because the $600,000 is higher than the maximum statutory fine. Each count carries a maximum fine of $200,000, and Matson agreed to pay $400,000 for both.
The U.S. government then reclassified the community service payment as restitution.
Restitution is appropriate because there’s a connection between the groups’ work and the impacts of the 2013 spill, Puglisi said.
Enough molasses to fill about seven rail cars — 1,400 tons — oozed out from a section of pipe Matson thought had been sealed off, suffocating marine life and discoloring the water as it sank to the bottom of the harbor.
After the sentencing, Matson Terminals Senior Vice President Peter Heilmann thanked the U.S. attorney’s office for its professionalism and said the company is satisfied to resolve the matter.
Matson Terminals and its affiliates have not yet resolved any potential civil claims by the Environmental Protection Agency or the state.
"We continue to cooperate with the state in an effort to address impacts to the state from the incident," President and CEO Matt Cox said in a statement.