Plans to remove a grounded fishing vessel off Waikiki were disrupted today after a fire broke out on board.
A salvage company was preparing for an attempt to tow the boat during high tide about 12:30 p.m. today when the boat caught fire about 10 a.m., said Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Sara Muir.
The boat is grounded less than 400 yards off Kaimana Beach and beach goers watched as black smoke and flames spewed from the boat.
Punchbowl resident Aaron Friedman, who was at the beach for a barbecue, said that before the fire boat appeared dark and quiet.
“Then all of a sudden there was smoke,” he said. After about 10 minutes, flames appeared and people began jumping off the boat.
Firefighters used a helicopter to dump water on the vessel, helping to reduce the flames, but the boat continued to smolder for hours afterwards.
A Coast Guard official said seven people from the salvage company were working on the vessel when the fire started. All seven were able to escape without injury, and city lifeguards picked them up and took them get to safety.
Muir said no one was allowed on the vessel for safety reasons and the cause of the fire remained undetermined. The fire started under the deck and the stability of the deck was unknown.
The 79-foot vessel, known as Pacific Paradise, had two diesel tanks under the deck, attached to opposite sides of the hull. Muir said there was 1,500 gallons of diesel fuel still on board before the fire. Some was released into the ocean after the blaze, but it was unclear how much. Muir said diesel fuel can break up and evaporate quickly.
NOAA was monitoring the pollution and was asked to analyze the environmental impact of the release, Muir said. She said a monk seal was in Waikiki this past week and last seen near Hale Koa Hotel. It was not near Kaimana Beach.
Muir said the fire damaged the tow lines, and the salvage company was reassessing how to remove the vessel.
On Friday, the company tried to tow the boat during high tide, but the tow lines snapped. The company reattached the lines and were able to tow the vessel about 50 yards before the tide went out.
This morning, the Coast Guard was present while the company was preparing a second attempt to remove the vessel during high tide when the fire started.
Muir said the next window to remove the boat will be about 1:15 p.m. Sunday.
The U.S.-flagged boat ran aground late Tuesday night with 20 people on board. The vessel ran aground while transporting a crew from American Samoa to Port Honolulu. Muir said the boat did not have any fish onboard, which was one less concern for responders because rotting fish can cause toxic substances.
The beach remained largely empty today with the Coast Guard enforcing a 500-yard safety zone extending out from the vessel.