Boat Wreck on Papohaku

By Jack Kiyonaga, Editor 

Photo by Jack Kiyonaga.

On Tuesday, Oct. 3, a 50-foot boat ran aground near ‘Ilio Point around 4 a.m. The five-man crew was rescued early in the morning by the Coast Guard and Molokai Fire Department, leaving the damaged boat in the water.  

As of Tuesday, the Coast Guard reported that “the vessel is currently afloat and a hazard to navigation, maritime safety broadcast has been issued to notify mariners in the area,” adding that “there is no visible sheening at this time and the Coast Guard will continue to monitor the vessel.”  

By Wednesday, the boat had drifted down the coast, eventually sucked into shore near the area of Papohaku known as Third Hole. 

That night, a northwest swell producing surf of at least eight feet battered the already damaged boat. The vessel was smashed into countless pieces along the northern portion of Papohaku Beach, producing an almost unbearable smell of gasoline and covering the beach in dangerous debris, according to witnesses. 

As news spread about the wreckage, Molokai families began making their way to Papohaku to help clean up. 

“It’s like a bomb went off,” said one Molokai resident as he surveyed the scene: planks of wood with nails at painful angles, bloated foam, peeling fiberglass, sheared metal. Dark wood bobbed ominously in the growing surf. He explained that he hoped to remove the more dangerous debris before it could be covered by the tide. He didn’t want his kids body boarding in the area in the future with screws and nails still in the sand. 

State Representative Mahina Poepoe was in contact with the Dept. of Land and Natural Resources, urging immediate action. 

On Wednesday night, DLNR stated its Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation was “working with the boat owner to remove the boat as soon as possible.”

With no official cleanup happening, Poepoe was one the Molokai community members to show up and help out. 

As of Saturday, “a lot of progress was made,” explained Poepoe. “They were able to get most of the big pieces up off the beach and above the shoreline.”

Photo by Jack Kiyonaga.

“There’s no response like community response,” she said. “They took it upon themselves.”

The speed of the community response allowed residents to make progress in the cleanup before even government agencies were available to help. 

“The government processes do work slower,” Poepoe explained. Molokai community members collaborated with the county, Molokai Ranch and private landowners to gain access to the site, according to Poepoe. 

“This was a good example of a community and government coming together,” DLNR Deputy Director Laura Kaakua said in a recent press release. 

While much progress was made, there are still concerns regarding the clean-up and lasting impact of the wreck. 

Reports of a continuing strong smell of gas and dead sea life along the shore have caused serious concern. 

“A substantial amount [of fuel] was spilled,” said Poepoe. She is working to “make sure the owners are held accountable.”

“I would say the vessel owners and the Coast Guard were the primary negligent parties,” said Poepoe. She explained that the “assumption was that [the Coast Guard] would monitor the boat until it sank.” 

According to the DLNR, the owner of the boat did not have salvage insurance. 

Now, Poepoe is looking at legislation that could help prevent similar incidents in the future and ways to “better facilitate community and government cooperation and efforts.” 

The DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources is standing by to conduct marine surveys to assess any damage to the coral reef. 

“As unfortunate and bad as the situation is…the Maunaloa community members who were out mobilized almost immediately,” explained Poepoe. “It just makes me really proud of our community.”


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