Kokua Line

By June Watanabe

Tuesday, November 5, 1996

Cruise ship got bad water from polluted isle source

Q: American Hawaii Cruises, Oct. 21, '96, in Kauai, Nawiliwili Harbor: Upon rising first thing in the morning, (I found) the drinking water aboard the SS Independence cruise ship was polluted tannish brown color. Auwe! American Hawaii Cruises did not alert crew and passengers about the contaminated water. No action or verbal communication took place. But only passengers were (given) bottled water and bags of ice from the store, not crew.

"Maybe the FDA, state of Hawaii can take proper action.

State and ship officials report that there was a problem with polluted water - mainly affecting Kauai residents - but that it was taken care of almost immediately. No illnesses were reported because of the pollution although two people, not from the ship, complained about drinking the water.

Heavy rains that weekend caused contamination of a major water source for parts of Nawiliwili and all of Niumalu.

Some of that water was loaded aboard the Independence when it docked at Nawiliwili.

As soon as the contamination was discovered, about daybreak Oct. 21, residents were warned not to use the water, said Harold Eichelberger, of the Health Department's safe drinking water division in Lihue.

He credited Kauai officials with "responding immediately, keeping the public informed" and providing clean water in gallon jugs to residents.

On board the ship, the crew discovered "tannish water" loaded from Kauai about 6:30 a.m., said Nancy Loewenherz, spokeswoman for American Hawaii Cruises. The Health Department was immediately contacted and officials confirmed the pollution. The tank holding the water was flushed and crew members switched use to a forward tank that held water from Honolulu, Loewenherz said.

By 11:45 a.m. that day, water samples were taken from the ship, Eichelberger said. All three tested negative for coliform bacteria. Because of that, "we did not make any general announcement or make the situation known," Loewenherz said. "And we did not pass out bottles of water. A couple of passengers requested bottles and we provided them. But we did replenish all ice on the ship as a precautionary measure."

The source of the contamination was a tunnel four miles inland from Nawiliwili Harbor, under a recently plowed sugar cane field. The rains caused the soil to erode and fall into the tunnel, Eichelberger said. The tunnel has remained shut pending an investigation by the Kauai Water Deparment, he said. The "Grammar School well" is being used as a backup.

The drinking water was declared safe after three days of flushing and chlorination by the Kauai Water Department.

The U.S. Coast Guard did not have to be informed of the incident because there was no question about the ship's safety, said Lt. Maureen March. As it was, no one complained to the agency's marine safety inspector. "When it's a sanitation issue like clean water, it's a state matter," she said.

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