The U.S. Coast Guard rescued 19 foreign fishermen and their American captain from a 79-foot U.S.-flagged commercial fishing vessel that ran aground off Waikiki on Tuesday night.
Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Sara Muir said Wednesday that officials are working to get diesel fuel off the boat, which carries 13,000 gallons of fuel and hydraulic oils. There was no sign that any fuel or other hazardous materials had leaked into the water, Muir said.
Officials did not get a distress call from the Honolulu-based Pacific Princess when it ran aground less than 400 yards offshore, Muir said. Witnesses on land reported the incident to the Coast Guard, which responded with the Honolulu Fire Department by boat, rescue watercraft and helicopter. No one was injured.
THE Coast Guard does not yet know why the captain or crew did not call for help. “The Coast Guard is investigating the circumstances of why the vessel grounded and I’m sure that’s a question they are asking,” Muir said.
All but three of the men aboard the boat were moved to a nearby Coast Guard vessel and taken ashore. The captain and two crew members were hoisted from the fishing boat by helicopter and flown to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, where they were met by police and federal immigration officials.
The boat’s foreign crew members are being held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials at Pier 17 in Honolulu because they do not have visas to enter the United States.
Hundreds of foreign workers are employed in the Hawaii fishing fleet due to a federal loophole that allows them to work but exempts them from most basic labor protections. Many come from impoverished Southeast Asian and Pacific nations to take the dangerous jobs, which can pay as little as 70 cents an hour, a 2016 Associated Press investigation found.
The Coast Guard said the 19 crew members of the Pacific Princess are from Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines. Some may find other boats to work on while others may return to their home countries, Muir said.
Officials will try to salvage the vessel during high tides in the coming days.
The Coast Guard said rescuers arrived at the boat just before midnight Tuesday in calm seas with 11 mph winds. The area is dominated by coral reefs.
Records show the longline tuna fishing boat is owned by TWOL LLC in Honolulu. The same company is listed as also owning the Pacific Dragon commercial fishing vessel.